The Basics of Crisis Communications
We all have seen examples of companies that did not respond well during times of crisis, whether it is Boeing’s non-response to the 737 MAX safety issue or Samsung’s silence while their new Galaxy phones were catching fire. When companies’ crisis communications are done poorly, as in both those cases, it creates more problems, beyond the original “crisis” for the brand.
Crisis communications are the responses of a brand (company) when its reputation is at risk. And while the nuances of how best to respond to a particular event or set of events depend on the specific circumstance, the company, its market and other factors, several overarching strategies make for an effective response during times of crisis.
The most important step to take for crisis communications, as with any communications, is planning and preparation. Develop scenarios for several different situations, to include safety fails, natural disasters, and personnel issues.
Designate authorized spokespeople based on expertise and issue that they are currently addressing. Media training for designated spokespeople is always a good idea and helps to ensure that they are comfortable in their roles, are well prepared and have practiced.
A messaging document that includes channels (social media, email, web, news outlets, etc.) along with the timing is also a helpful tool at this planning stage. Remember to include follow-up communications efforts for points after the crisis has passed to address any lingering concerns or issues by stakeholders.
Internal communications are critical during times of crisis, and planning consistent communications for staff and other important internal stakeholders (for instance, certain clients, partners) should be included. Staff and others are always the carriers of information and often serve as the first line of communications to other stakeholders.
Respond quickly, consistently and honestly
If a crisis does visit your firm, the preparation provides a road map to follow. At the onset of a crisis, responding quickly is important. In too many instances, including the two cited above, companies were slow to respond, allowing social media users, the media and others to begin telling the story, often without all the facts or with an obvious bias.
While a speedy response is crucial, coordinated and consistent messaging is just as important. This is where the planning and preparation pay off; you have your designated spokespeople, your messaging document and your channels. Use this planning to ensure the message is communicated clearly.
Most importantly, however, is an honest response during a crisis. When brands try to hedge their role, hide the facts, or outright lie to the public, they are always found out, causing the crisis to grow exponentially in size and scope.
Finally, after the crisis has passed and the communications team and leadership have had a few days to take a step back, perform an After-Action Assessment. The assessment provides your team, and organizational leadership, a great opportunity to learn from the process so you can be better prepared in the future.