In today’s world, it seems as though we are always in crisis mode. From attacks on our national security and peaceful protests, to E. coli outbreaks and T. Swift and Kimye drama, it is important for brands to manage all messages that are delivered during a crisis situation.
Crisis comes in all shapes and sizes. No matter how small something may seem at first, there’s always the chance that it may affect a brand’s reputation and therefore should be handled as a crisis.
What is Crisis Communications?
Defined by BusinessDictionary.com, crisis communications is,
“the effort taken by a company to communicate with the public and stockholders when an unexpected event occurs that could have a negative impact on the company’s reputation.”
In other words, it’s reputation management.
Gone are the days of a crisis breaking and it taking days for someone to find out about it. We are now in a social media world and 24-hour news cycle. If something goes wrong at your company it can be a matter of minutes before the media gets wind of it, so be prepared.
How to Plan for a Crisis
It is nearly impossible to identify every scenario that may occur, but it is the responsibility of your internal or external communications team to make sure that the company is as prepared as it can be. According to the Institute for Public Relations, crisis communications best practices include following these five steps:
5 things to do to prepare for a crisis:
- Create a crisis communications plan and update it regularly
Having a plan in place is critical should an issue arise. You don’t want to be scrambling when a fire breaks out in your warehouse, or when you find out an employee has been embezzling from the company. Take the time to write the plan. And most importantly, perform table-top training sessions with key employees to ensure they know what to do and how to act during certain scenarios.
- Identify a crisis management team
Having the right team of leaders in a crisis situation is critical, but more important than having the team together is making sure the team is properly trained. The team should consist of members from each department including public relations, social media, legal, finance, human resources, and executive leadership.
- Train the team annually
Everything from running through a mock issue, to training spokespeople on specific questions they’ll likely need to answer during an interview will help you manage any given crisis. Whether it be for print, radio, podcast, Skype or TV, the extra time spent in media and scenario training will benefit the reputation of your company in the long run.
- Identify key messages
Having general statements prepared and ready to go can be a lifesaver. If your team is starting from scratch every time there is a situation to deal with, you’ll be scrambling last minute, always working to keep up with the negative news rather than staying ahead of it like you should. A general statement such as “The safety of our employees and customers are our top priority, and we will keep you informed when additional information becomes available,” will save you time and headaches while the rest of your team works to gather facts related to the incident. Make sure to include messages that can be used on your website, on social media channels and in your voicemail answering systems as well.
- Make the plan available and accessible
Once the core team is identified and properly trained, make sure everyone has easy access to the plan at all times. If there may ever be a need for hard copies of the plan, provide them. Make sure the plan is available digitally as well. Put it on the company intranet; make sure any administrative assistants to the crisis management team have copies too. If a team member can’t get access to the plan when they need it, that can lead to an ever bigger crisis.
5 things you must do in the event of a crisis:
- Be fast
Have a specific response at the ready within one hour of being notified of a potential situation.
- Check your facts
Make sure the information you provide to any audiences—internal, external, media, whomever—is fact-checked and accurate.
- Be consistent
Keep the crisis team informed of new developments pertaining to the situation making sure everyone is on the same page and has all of the same facts.
- Inform your employees
Employees are the most important audience to inform in the event of a crisis. Informing employees prior to the general public will help you manage your reputation from the inside out. Keeping them up to date with facts will allow them to feel included and deliver the same message consistently to external audiences.
- Tell the story
Use all company communication channels to brief your audiences on the crisis at hand. This includes, but is not limited to, your website, company spokespeople, employees, all social media channels, intranet, answering systems, customer service representatives, switchboards, etc.
Preparation is the key to any good crisis plan. If you don’t have a plan for your company, get one. If you haven’t updated your crisis plan in the last year, what are you waiting for? Update it as soon as possible. An outdated crisis plan will do you as much good as having no crisis plan.
- Create a plan;
- Identify and train your crisis management team;
- Create general key message statements;
- Make the plan and spokespeople accessible;
- Be prepared!
The ideal situation is one that can be mitigated quickly and quietly. However, the more digging you do and the more facts you have, you may find out it isn’t a crisis at all—maybe it was just a customer playing Pokémon Go! and had a screaming fit when they walked into your business and lost a battle. Whatever the situation, be prepared to protect your company and its reputation.