What is Crisis Communication
Most businesses will face a crisis at some point in their life cycle. How the situation is handled is a good indicator of how strong the organization will be when the crisis is resolved.
Before we dive in, let’s take a quick look at exactly what crisis communication means.
Crisis communication is a specialty within public relations. It’s the process of creating a framework to effectively communicate with your team and outside stakeholders during a crisis.
An effective crisis communication plan serves as a guide for employees to communicate with outside stakeholders as well as business partners and other employees.
Why is Crisis Communication Important for Growing a Business
At first glance, crisis communication and business growth don’t seem to work hand-in-hand.
However, every business is at risk of being hit by a crisis.
The Covid-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on businesses both large and small.
We’ve all had a front-row seat to watch the pandemic unfold. It has served as a brutal but necessary reminder.
A crisis can strike without warning impacting everyone from mom and pop shops on Main Street to Fortune 100 companies.
It is simply a matter of time before a business is hit with a crisis.
Business growth and crisis communication work in tandem.
The more efficiently a business can communicate with its employees and stakeholders during a time of crisis, the easier it will be to resume normal operations and focus on growing the business.
Preparing for Growth after a Crisis
There are two key pieces of the puzzle necessary for weathering the storm and returning to a growth mindset.
A well thought out crisis communication plan must be available before disaster strikes.
All members of the organization need to understand how to properly respond to the potential challenges on the horizon.
When crafting a crisis communication plan your work is going to fall into one of two stages: preparation and implementation.
There are seven key aspects of the preparation stage. Carefully considering each piece is the best way to ensure your organization is ready to respond when the time comes.
Work within Your Resources
It seems like nearly every week we see a spokesperson for a large corporation holding a press conference to let stakeholders know how their organization is handling the latest crisis.
Most organizations don’t have the luxury of putting a professional spokesperson in front of a room full of cameras.
Most organizations don’t have the resources to put a full-time spokesperson in front of the cameras, but your crisis communication plan should be designed to incorporate all the resources in your organization at its disposal.
Start with the Most Likely Scenarios
Every business and every industry will have their own challenges to conquer when a crisis occurs.
The key is to develop a list of possible scenarios and begin preparing for the most likely situation first.
Is your organization most susceptible to:
- A natural disaster
- Political policy change
- Disputes with employees or stakeholders
- Community unrest
Damages caused by your product
It’s impossible to anticipate every crisis before it happens. But, having a well-rounded response plan will help you navigate unforeseen challenges as they occur.
Know Your Chain of Command
Having the right team members in the loop is absolutely imperative when your organization is battling a crisis.
Keeping the right people in the loop comes down to having a list of those in your organization who need to be kept up-to-date.
Your list of those in the “need to know” may change depending upon the situation at hand.
Again, we recommend brainstorming who should be included in various situations to ensure the process goes smoothly when the time comes.
The Voice of the Organization
We all have natural gifts and talents. The team members that are most comfortable writing and speaking should be the ones preparing written statements and addressing shareholders.
Even though we recommend tasking certain team members with making statements or presenting information, It’s best to have a group of individuals review all materials before you make any kind of public statement or presentation.
Don’t Forget the FAQs
Just as the scenarios you’re likely to face depend upon your industry so do the questions you will need to address.
Preparing a list of questions in advance will help you better respond in a time of crisis.
Create a Routine Training Program
A routine training program is a must to make sure roles are properly understood and jobs are executed correctly.
While it may take more time than simply going over responsibilities, it’s a good idea to have mock crisis response training. Practice makes each step in the process easier when a real-world response is needed.
Keep an Eye on the Temperature of Your Environment
If recent events have taught us anything it’s that our world can be flipped upside down at a moment’s notice.
The best way to avoid being blindsided by a crisis is to keep your finger on the pulse of your community.
When it seems as though things might be taking a turn for the worst, start reviewing your crisis communication plan.
When it is time to put your crisis communication plan into action there are several more aspects you need to consider before you officially get the ball rolling.
Key Takeaway: Remember your preparation, and don’t panic.
Keep Your Messaging Simple
During times of turmoil, you want your message to be understandable and trustworthy. The best way to do this is to keep things simple. Avoid overcomplicating things with unnecessary details while still providing a complete picture of the situation.
Ensure Your Message Is Consistent and Effective
In today’s world companies have literally dozens of different channels to disseminate information.
Going through each message with a fine-tooth comb to make sure the content on each channel works toward communicating a cohesive statement is imperative for easing your stakeholder’s concerns during the crisis.
Establish Avenues of Communication
Social media is great for connecting with an audience in real-time. However, when a crisis occurs it’s a good idea to establish other avenues of communication.
The very nature of social media allows challenging situations to quickly snowball into something that can be extremely difficult to control and detrimental to the organization.
A Postcrisis Review
After a crisis, it can be tempting to take a deep breath, put everything behind you, and work toward getting things back to business as usual.
This would be a crucial mistake. Now is the time to review what went right and what could have been done differently.
This time of reflection will not only help you prepare for the next crisis, you may find a few opportunities to implement new strategies and tactics to strengthen your business.
The Don’ts of Crisis Communication
Every crisis is different, but there are a few things you want to avoid no matter the situation.
Don’t Hide from the Problem
Hiding may not be intentional. You may simply be overwhelmed and unsure of how to handle the situation. If there’s one life lesson we know rings true, it’s hiding from a problem never makes it better.
In 2018 it was alleged Facebook misused the data of its members. Zuckerberg and his team were not on top of the problem. It took 15 days for Facebook to issue a response.
Worse than that, the apology was completely inauthentic.
Sorry Not Sorry
The founder of Papa John’s Pizza, John Schnatter God himself and his pizza Empire in hot water after he made a racist comment during a conference call.
The company took an approach that is becoming increasingly popular. They decided to release an apology ad. The only problem was, they didn’t apologize.
Their apology, or lack thereof, caused an uproar on social media. Followers were looking for a substantive apology.
When your organization makes a mistake, issue a direct and genuine apology.
Think Before You Speak
Elon musk gives us a perfect example of what not to do on social media. In 2018 he seemed to pick a fight with one of the cave divers trying to rescue the Thai soccer team crept inside a cave during monsoon season.
His rant was misguided and completely unnecessary.
If you have a public platform, think twice before sharing comments or opinions.
Why Work with a PR Agency on Crisis Communication
In today’s world, when something goes wrong there are more eyes and ears focused on companies than ever before. You only get one chance to make the right first move before being judged by the court of public opinion.
Partnering with a PR agency gives you an experienced partner that can help you develop a game plan and coach you through turbulent times.
Picking the Right PR Agency
Many agencies may take on a client in need of crisis management. However, few PR agencies truly specialize in crisis management and crisis communication. When you’re choosing the right PR agency to partner with here are some things to consider.
- Do they specialize in crisis management and crisis communication?
- Are they familiar with your industry?
- Have they handled similar situations before, and what was the outcome?
You may even want to ask them to share their basic game plan before you sign a contract. This way, you can be sure you are both on the same page.