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PR crisis-management: How companies should react in the event of a shitstorm

Public Relations

“The more you plan, the harder chance hits you.” This usually proves true when it is least expected. All companies hope it never happens, yet no one is immune to it: a flood of negative comments due to a message sent out by the company, a shitstorm. It is by no means a new phenomenon; long before social media and the world wide web came to life, a company’s image and its reputation would suffer from negative headlines and bad word-of-mouth. Opposite to former times, though, such damage must be viewed in a complete different light these days. The reason lies in the internet’s potential to spread negative headlines like wildfire and reach several thousand to millions of people within a short time, who are influenced by the mass and join in with the general opinion. A particularly controversial but even more feared variance of the shitstorm is the so-called Cancel Culture. In such cases, companies or personalities are “cancelled out” and simply boycotted.


A shitstorm in the making

As soon as such a flood of negative reports and opinions becomes apparent, it is important not to act overhastily, but to seek help from experts. Because not every negative report requires a public reaction. In some cases, it is wiser to sit and wait until the storm has passed. That way, you avoid drawing even more attention to the issue.

In other cases, however, it is all the more important to react immediately and refute false claims. Working with PR specialists for many years is an enormous advantage here, as they know the company well and can take immediate action in consultation with the company to prevent a PR disaster. It should be avoided at all costs to wait too long with clarifications or to delay admitting clear mistakes for too long.

Regardless of which approach is chosen – an active statement or passive waiting:
the topic must always be monitored in the media and internet. In principle, a shitstorm can be compared to a fire’s behaviour. It quickly spreads to several social media networks and, depending on platform and user group, the shitstorm ignites further flashpoints and thus increasingly gains in intensity and growth.

To get an accurate overview of current figures and opinions, a seamless interaction of social listening and social media monitoring is necessary. Only by doing so emerges a clear picture of how many people are aware of this shitstorm and how many of them react in which way. The following parameters are crucial for the further procedure in a crisis and its corresponding communication strategy in order to emerge from it as unharmed as possible. Therefore, these observations should take place continuously and be summarized in regular analysis.

The decision which approach to take is not an easy one: is the crisis small enough to sit it out or will a statement be necessary? A wrong decision at that time can have serious consequences. This is why it is advisable to have experienced PR consultants at your side in such precarious situations.


You might also be interested in this: 7 Changes That’ll Make a Big Difference in Your Crisis Management


3 steps for the right behaviour in the eye of the shitstorm

If the point of no return has already been reached and the shitstorm is unstoppable, you are literally in the eye of the storm. In such a situation, it is essential to take stand. Sitting-out-tactics no longer are no longer effective.

Before formulating and making a statement, for example in the form of a public apology, it is important to clearly identify the following in advance:
– what was the cause,
– what exactly is upsetting the media and people in the social media and
– what reaction is now expected on the part of the company?
It would be fatal to publish an apology in which the actual problem is only touched upon on the surface. This quickly leads to accusations of hypocrisy and the crisis gains momentum.
Therefore, these three steps are indispensable:

  1. detailed analysis of the problem and proper reactions
  2. internal briefing on current figures and people’s expectations and
  3. writing an open and honest apology / statement.


A shitstorm is a complex and difficult issue, which requires to proceed with the utmost mindfulness. Therefore, in the event of a shitstorm, do not wait until it is too late, but contact experienced professionals who will take care of your communication strategy out of the crisis.


About the authors

Sebastian Wuttke HBI

Sebastian Wuttke

Senior Account Manger at HBI Helga Bailey GmbH – International PR & MarCom

Sebastian Wuttke has been supporting customers from the B2C and B2B sector since 2018 and is specialized in text creation and the management of social media channels. He is also part of HBI’s marketing Team.

Lukas Huber HBI

Lukas Huber

Marketing Assistant at HBI Helga Bailey GmbH – International PR & MarCom

Lukas Huber has been part of HBI’s marketing team since 2020. As Marketing Assistant, his responsibilities include the development of marketing campaigns, social media management and the creation of specialized articles.





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