Crisis situations can quickly spiral out of control, making it paramount for organizations to know how and when to effectively respond to potential threats. But a report published by PR analytics and insights platform Memo suggests that communications pros working for companies’ in-house communications team and agencies specializing in crisis are suited to handle different situations—and also tend to have fundamentally different outlooks on crises and approach them differently. Finally, they also seem to disagree regarding how much assistance crisis agencies bring to the table once they’re called in.

The report, which focused on how organizations and agencies plan for potential crises, their approach to incident response and what crises they’re most concerned about in 2024, found that in-house communications pros and agency pros are, more or less, in agreement when it comes to what considerations should made before responding to a crisis and what elements are the most important in a crisis response.

Memo's 2024 Crisis Index

However, in-house communicators tend to look at all the factors potentially contributing to a crisis evenly before weighing a response. Agency pros, on the other hand, tend to be far more interested in ensuring the crisis response contains all the details than their in-house counterparts (50 percent vs. 42 percent). And agency pros were also more likely to weigh social factors that contribute to a crisis— the number of people affected, social chatter and readers—more heavily than in-house teams.

When it comes to what types of potential crisis situations communicators claim they’re most prepared for, in-house communications teams across all company sizes said they’re best equipped for breaches or cybersecurity incidents (45 percent), employee or workplace issues (42 percent) and combating misinformation (40 percent). This was followed by leadership issues, natural disasters and legal issues or lawsuits. Strangely, only 33 percent of in-house communicators said they’re prepared for layoff or restructure scenarios, even though those were among the most common crises for brands last year.

PR agencies, on the other hand, also think they have the best plans in place for handling employee or workplace incidents (52.5 percent), breaches or cybersecurity incidents (44 percent), combating misinformation (42.6 percent). This was followed by layoffs or restructures, legal issues or lawsuits and financial issues. PR agency pros revealed a lack of preparation tools in place for dealing with natural disasters (24 percent).

There also appears to be some discrepancy between how helpful agency teams think they are in a crisis and how helpful in-house pros think they are. For example, 54 percent of agency pros think that developing a media strategy is where they offer the greatest assistance in a crisis, but 35 percent of in-house pros said they are actually least helpful in that area. 52 percent of agency pros also thought they were most helpful during a crisis when executing a media strategy, but 39 percent of in-house professionals said their agency wasn’t helpful in this regard. 51 percent of agency pros believe they’re helpful in advising on a crisis plan, but 31 percent of in-house pros said this isn’t true. 44 percent of agency pros also think they’re helpful at writing or reviewing press statements but 36 percent of in-house said that’s where agencies are least helpful.

The report also suggests companies are turning to PR agencies for communications support further down the crisis pipeline. Almost half (43 percent) of agency pros reported that they now tend to get looped into a crisis after the crisis is unfolding, only once their client realizes they need to develop a plan. Compared to previous Memo studies, the revelation indicates that agency pros are getting looped in the crisis process later than before and probably far later than what is recommended.

Finally, most communicators seem to agree that data is key in combatting a crisis. An overwhelming majority of in-house communicators (81 percent) said they utilize data to inform their crisis response most of the time, if not always, and 72 percent of agency pros similarly said they leverage data to inform their crisis strategy.

Memo’s “2024 Crisis Index” report surveyed 1,000 communications professionals working either full time at a company (either in-house or at an agency) with more than 100 employees. The survey was conducted online by research panel company Sago between February and March.