Martian Crisis PR Strategies

November 12, 2015 | blog | By Mike Sullivan


NASA has a legitimate crisis on its hands; an astronaut is stranded on Mars.

This PR nightmare is the premise of the best-selling book and new movie, The Martian. One of the more colorful characters in the book is NASA’s fictional PR director, Annie Montrose.

Having just read the book, I wanted to share a few crisis PR strategies employed in The Martian that are best practices for a real crises on Earth.

Loop in your PR person. In The Martian, Annie plays an active role in the story. In a crisis situation, your PR director should be among the first to know. By including your PR director in important meetings, you have the benefit of a point of view that’s primarily focused on the public image of the company.

Gather ‘round your team of experts. In addition to Annie, NASA brought together its very best team of subject matter experts to problem solve and save Watney. Interesting to note is that the team also included a low-ranking engineer, Mindy Park, because she was first to notice Watney’s survival from the satellite images. A crisis is no time to exclude knowledgeable people based on hierarchy.

Share the unfiltered facts with your PR director. Your PR lead should be someone you can trust with the unbridled truth. They can help you decide which information is relevant to be released and strategize on the best positioning and messaging. PR directors can’t do their job to protect the reputation of the company if they don’t have ALL of the information.

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Respond honestly. In The Martian, Annie has prepared to answer every question in advance, and sometimes, the only honest answer is, “We don’t know right now.” NASA pulled out all the stops to save Watney; there was a degree of uncertainty on the probability of success, and they shared the odds for success with the public.

Respond in a timely manner.  NASA was up against a tight deadline in The Martianbecause images would go public after a certain point, but they also demonstrated proactive cooperation with the media. The NASA team even participated in a daily TV show with expert interviews and updates.

Provide a visual. Visuals are important for all media, so it’s no surprise that the fictional media demanded a photo of Watney. Although Watney’s message from Mars wasn’t what people expected, they released it and proved they were responsive to the media’s request for information.

When a crisis strikes, it’s no time to go radio silent. Let  your PR director navigate the communication for you, and your public won’t leave you stranded.


Mike Sullivan

President at LOOMIS, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency


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