Welcome to PRSM107: Crisis Communication

Specific information about this course and its requirements can be found below. For more general information about taking Saylor Academy courses, including information about Community and Academic Codes of Conduct, please read the Student Handbook.


Course Description

Learn how to apply crisis communication principles to protect and defend a company or organization facing a problem or challenge that threatens to harm its brand or reputation.


Course Introduction

Imagine you wake up one morning and read the news that a major fire threatens your office building. You immediately remember that your organization recently practiced its quarterly disaster preparedness exercise. You know what to do, who to contact, and the location of the alternate office to use in case of an emergency. You are concerned, but you are confident that you have a plan in place. As a key member of the organization's crisis communication team (CMT), you know your role. You help management immediately prepare a news release and update the company's website with factual information on the who, what, when, and where details of the event. You use social media, such as Twitter and Facebook, and traditional media, such as radio and TV, to inform internal stakeholder groups (e.g., senior leadership, employees, and investors) and external stakeholder groups (e.g., customers, clients, local officials, and the general public) with appropriate key messages. During times of crisis, the public relations specialist helps management communicate that sound, safe, and responsible actions are being used to protect and defend the organization from harm or damage.

Crisis communication is one of the many specialized areas or functions of public relations. This course will specifically focus on the use of crisis communication to protect and defend a company or organization facing a problem or challenge that threatens to harm its brand or reputation. As a sudden and unexpected serious event, a crisis can fall into four categories: acts of God, mechanical problems, human error, and management decision or indecision. You may recall examples of crisis in news coverage of killer earthquakes and tsunamis, grounded airplanes, stranded cruise ship passengers, and senior government officials or CEOs who are fired or asked to resign following adulterous affairs. If you want to learn to become a professional public relations specialist, it is important to have a basic understanding of the important role public relations has in helping guide a company or organization through a crisis or serious event.

This course is designed for practical applications of crisis communication principles. This course will explain what communication problems look like, the different phases of crises, how to deal with them, and how to anticipate crises as part of conducting an effective public relations program. It will also explain the role of a crisis communication team and teach you how to write a crisis communication plan. Most importantly, it will emphasize the value and importance of using social media in a crisis communication plan and in marketing. Through case studies, you will examine best practices that have worked for others. A diverse selection of resource materials will help guide and supplement your understanding of practical applications. This course will cover certain crisis cases, including BP's oil rig explosion, a Wendy's customer's false claims, and a UPS employee strike. After completing this course, you may also be interested in conducting your own research to find examples of other crisis cases, such as Carnival's Costa Concordia cruise ship, Lance Armstrong and the Livestrong Foundation, the Susan G. Komen Foundation, Penn State, or Toyota's 2010 recalls. These cases will give you an appreciation and understanding of the necessity to have a well-thought-out crisis communication management system. The overall goal of the course is to help develop your skills and abilities as part of a crisis management team to help an organization or company develop a credible and tested communication plan to effectively respond to a crisis.

This course includes the following units:

  • Unit 1: Crisis Communication Introduction
  • Unit 2: Preparing for a Crisis
  • Unit 3: Using Social Media During a Crisis
  • Unit 4: Designing a Crisis Communication Plan (CCP)
  • Unit 5: Developing Strategic Messages


Course Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion of this course, you will be able to:

  • explain what crisis communication involves;
  • describe and identify different types of crisis;
  • describe the crisis management stages;
  • explain what crisis communication problems look like;
  • identify four types of crisis responses;
  • explain how to anticipate and make advanced preparations for a crisis;
  • describe the role of a crisis management team (CMT);
  • explain how to use social media to deal with a crisis;
  • explain the role of crisis communication when crafting strategic messages to a target audience;
  • describe the risks of using social media;
  • explain why social media is useful during a crisis, and describe how to use social media during a crisis;
  • describe the function of a crisis communication plan (CCP);
  • explain how to design and prepare a CCP;
  • explain how to test a CCP;
  • explain how to practice writing key messages that tell your company story;
  • explain how to incorporate key messages in online and traditional media tools;
  • describe how to help management communicate truthful messages; and
  • describe how to communicate with various stakeholder groups.

Throughout this course, you will also see learning outcomes in each unit. You can use those learning outcomes to help organize your studies and gauge your progress.


Course Materials

The primary learning materials for this course are articles, lectures, and videos.

All course materials are free to access and can be found in each unit of the course. Pay close attention to the notes that accompany these course materials, as they will tell you what to focus on in each resource, and will help you to understand how the learning materials fit into the course as a whole. You can also see a list of all the learning materials in this course by clicking on Resources in the navigation bar.


Evaluation and Minimum Passing Score

Only the final exam is considered when awarding you a grade for this course. In order to pass this course, you will need to earn a 70% or higher on the final exam. Your score on the exam will be calculated as soon as you complete it. If you do not pass the exam on your first try, you may take it again as many times as you want, with a 7-day waiting period between each attempt. Once you have successfully passed the final exam you will be awarded a free Course Completion Certificate.

There are also end-of-unit assessments and other quizzes in this course. These are designed to help you study, and do not factor into your final course grade. You can take these as many times as you want until you understand the concepts and material covered. You can see all of these assessments by clicking on Quizzes in the course's navigation bar.


Tips for Success

PRSM107: Crisis Communication is a self-paced course, which means that you can decide when you will start and when you will complete the course. There is no instructor or an assigned schedule to follow. We estimate that the "average" student will take 18 hours to complete this course. We recommend that you work through the course at a pace that is comfortable for you and allows you to make regular progress. It's a good idea to also schedule your study time in advance and try as best as you can to stick to that schedule.

Learning new material can be challenging, so we've compiled a few study strategies to help you succeed:

  • Take notes on the various terms, practices, and theories that you come across. This can help you put each concept into context, and will create a refresher that you can use as you study later on.
  • As you work through the materials, take some time to test yourself on what you remember and how well you understand the concepts. Reflecting on what you've learned is important for your long-term memory, and will make you more likely to retain information over time.


Suggested Prerequisites

In order to take this course, you should:

  • have knowledge about the basics of public relations and feel comfortable in writing and producing public relations pieces for traditional news media and social media.


Technical Requirements

This course is delivered entirely online. You will be required to have access to a computer or web-capable mobile device and have consistent access to the internet to either view or download the necessary course resources and to attempt any auto-graded course assessments and the final exam.

  • To access the full course including assessments and the final exam, you will need to be logged into your Saylor Academy account and enrolled in the course. If you do not already have an account, you may create one for free here. Although you can access some of the course without logging in to your account, you should log in to maximize your course experience. For example, you cannot take assessments or track your progress unless you are logged in.

For additional guidance, check out Saylor Academy's FAQ.



This course is entirely free to enroll in and to access. Everything linked in the course, including textbooks, videos, webpages, and activities, is available for no charge. This course also contains a free final exam and course completion certificate.

Last modified: Wednesday, September 30, 2020, 5:56 PM