Crises are impartial, whether you are a veteran operation, a fortune 500 corporation, or a humble start-up, a crisis will inevitably strike us all. It's not a case of if, but when.
At the best of times, we are all sky diving with a parachute that has never been tested. We are operating in uncharted territory, riddled with unknowns and vulnerabilities. Many of our challenges are unique, but when it comes to crisis communications and mitigation, the rules are universal.
We may not be able to avoid every crisis, but there are steps we can all take to be better prepared, and tools we can implement to minimize the pain, distress and radical impact of a crisis.
ANTICIPATE AND PLAN
The first step is admitting you have a problem…
Every company has vulnerabilities, the most important thing we can do is acknowledge our possible shortcomings and develop a plan for managing potential fallout. Attempting to bury a body or ignore a problem will only make matters worse.
Establish a team of informed personnel to brainstorm and identify potential vulnerabilities. Big and small, far-fetched and likely, expected and unexpected; identify and track every possible scenario and begin planning.
A crisis communication plan is not tempting fate, it is not a make-work project. The only thing worse than a crisis, is a crisis response without a plan. Your crisis communications plan should be developed to incorporate the next four steps…
Adrenaline is a drug…
When crisis strikes a phenomenon inevitably takes hold; everyone believes themselves an expert, and internal and external parties begin to deliver their unsolicited advice and opinions. You need an established team of identified experts across business units who understand their roles and who support specific needs within your crisis communications team. By establishing a crisis communications team, you can have trust in your people and their capabilities, allowing your company to execute on your established communications plan.
Your crisis communications team must include senior leadership or those empowered to make decisions on behalf of the company. Additionally, you will require a public relations expert who understands crisis communications, subject matter experts depending on the topic, and an identified, trained and prepared public spokesperson.
Your company spokesperson must be a combination of the appropriate position and seniority, media trained and appropriately briefed on the topic at hand. DO NOT trust an individual who claims to be comfortable with media relations or public speaking to be prepared; crisis communications can be jarring to the most experienced of communications professionals. Ensure your spokesperson is trained and prepared for the adrenalin rush of a true crisis.
MONITOR AND TRACK
Communications is a two-way street…
In times of crisis you need to understand what is being said about you, and how to effectively communicate with your identified stakeholders. This means including both monitoring systems and communications tools in your crisis communications plan.
Monitoring communications must include social media monitoring and traditional media monitoring. By following and tracking the public dialogue you will be better prepared for the questions that need answering and the conversational tone required. Monitoring and tracking will require technology solutions and individuals who can appropriately interpret the data provided by these tools.
Depending on the nature of your crisis differing modes of stakeholder communication will be required, ranging from full scale emergency communications techniques to media relations. No matter the crisis, you need a plan for who your target audience is and how best to reach them. Once you have answered those questions you can develop and implement the necessary tactics.
The coverup is worse than the crime…
In the throws of a crisis it can be tempting to make statements minimizing the impact or attempting to temper the true extent of the crisis, DO NOT fall into this trap. As a company you must share exactly what you know, as soon as you know it. BUT you must ensure you KNOW it. Never provide information you are not 100% sure is accurate, any slip up will blow your spokesperson and even your company's credibility.
By providing your stakeholders and the public with accurate information in a timely manner you will limit misinformation and control the narrative to the best of your ability. In the case that information is unclear or unconfirmed, say that. Providing a holding statement that explains you are aware of the situation and takings steps to mitigate the impact. This demonstrates a willingness to engage with stakeholders and the public in a forthright and trustworthy manner.
A wasted mistake, is one not learned from…
Crises are an inevitable consequence of doing business and unfortunately, they can often result in radical and lasting impacts on your company. There is however a silver lining, an opportunity for learnings and growth moving forward.
In the days, weeks and even months following the crisis gather your team to discuss and understand what worked and what did not work. Update your crisis communications plan to ensure best practices moving forward.