We have all heard and seen brands crumble from a public relations debacle. The flip side is also true, brands arise from the ashes of a crisis to be reinvigorated and renewed. The razor fine line between success and failure is determined by an organization’s ability to be transparent, authentic and emphatic in the handling of an event that is either created within the organization or is the product of some external event out of the business’ control. Most organizations that are successful during a crisis have an established protocol, chain of command and have a crisis team in place at all times.
Whether a business crisis is internally driven by some accident or an unexpected occurrence, or is the result of an external disaster or event, the speed to which a business reacts and begins dealing with the crisis is particularly telling. Demonstrating thoughtful leadership and offering clear, calm and informed responses is paramount. Haphazard responses, unorganized delivery of information, and uninformed staff are all signs that planning has not preceded action. While timely communication is important, it is even more important that the communication, the message and the delivery of it be measured yet authentic.
An effective crisis team is a collection of stakeholders from throughout the organizations. Members of the team can come from any level of the organization but usually have management responsibilities. They represent their department, region, division or work group and bring specific intelligence to the crisis team which helps formulate and execute comprehensive plans and responses.
From this team a plan is formulated which takes into account the shifts the business may adopt to deal with the aftermath or the impending results of the crisis. This is even more challenging when the crisis is not ‘home grown’. When businesses begin to evaluate the possible impacts of an external event on their business, it is crucial they place themselves even more firmly in a “customer” mindset.
Thinking about how a business’ customer may be impacted and understanding how purchasing and traffic patterns will be affected, helps an organization shift its strategy to meet the new demands. The more in tune a business is with their customers habits and preferences the better prepared they are to adapt to a ‘new normal’ during a crisis. Communicating to your customers is vital and keeping transparent channels of communication open and accessible often reduces undo worry. Providing solid and factual information early and often positions a business as a go-to resource. Even if the business type, product or service is far removed from the initial event, being available and candid about the impacts on the business or community is key to keep trust high.
Knee-jerk reactions need to be avoided at all costs. No response or outcome should appear arbitrary or unplanned no matter how large or small. Companies forget that their staff and employees are their most important “customers” and often leave this constituency out of the loop. Employees are left in the dark and left to create assumptions about the lack of information. Conjecture, leads to gossip and rumor which fuel the panic within. By ensuring that your crisis plan has solid internal communication mechanisms that offer regular updates to your teams reduces the guessing game and helps to mitigate panic.
While not all news will be good news, within every crisis there is an opportunity. A crisis plan can help you identify opportunities which can become a positive, even in the bleakest of circumstances. Once again, the team crafting the plan needs to think outside the bounds of the current operation and must consider “what if” scenarios to help them develop alternatives and contingencies. Considering innovative ways to meet consumer and customer needs will not only help a business through a downturn, it can develop additional good will for the future.
Ensuring the message is delivered correctly has most to do with who in an organization is tasked with making public announcements or statements. A designated, trained and skilled spokesperson should be identified early in the process. This spokesperson can be different for internal and external communication if needed but both need to be fully and professionally trained. Plucking an executive out of their normal role and making them the quasi or temporary spokesperson is a disaster waiting to happen. Ensure that your organization regularly conducts training and refreshers for your designee to keep them comfortable delivering key information and understands the communication protocols of the organization during times of crisis. A trained spokesperson is proficient in both delivering messages and at responding to never throw an unprepared employee into a situation without the proper skill set or training because they are doomed to fail.
To that end, spokespersons who are given written prepared statements or talking points and are asked to facilitate question and answers need to be involved in the process of the crafting of messages so they are fully versed and feel comfortable with the words and content. Practicing Q&A sessions in advance is important to anticipate the types of inquiries a statement or communication will spark. Keep in mind that a spokesperson will be the face of your organization and will associate with your company during and after the event or crisis, so choose her or she wisely. Consider that the same statements prepared for your internal audience may not be the right message for your external one. Make sure that the messages are specific and relate directly to the needs of the audience and isn’t vague or generic which may create more of an inflammatory response.
The language of your messaging should be fact based, authentic and candid. Being evasive, and not forthcoming with facts that can easily be found via another source makes the organization look out of touch and insinuates that they are hiding something. If facts are not known, then be honest and say so. If there is information you are still gathering let the audience know that and provide them with a clear time and place where and when they can get updates. Never assume anything. Speak to facts and data and eliminate guessing, hypothetical or opinion. Messaging should be brief while providing enough context for the audience to understand not only where the situation is at any given time, but what brought it to the moment and what is expected to happen in the future.
The tone and environment of the announcement or statement is as important as the facts and information you are hoping to impart. Distractions of any kind can affect the receipt of your message so ensure your location, lighting and seating and visuals are on point and appropriate for you audience. Ensure the place and time of your announcement or communication take into account stakeholder’s needs, time zones and access to devices. Don’t choose one channel of communication only. In today’s market place Social Media feeds, Website and personal Blogs are all places where organizations can disseminate information. Different types of communication include written press releases, recorded messages, video (both live and recorded), press conferences and live Q&A sessions which all assist in getting the proper message to the right audience.
Ultimately, planning and being proactive are the best ways to get ahead of a crisis or emergency. While specific circumstances of a situation can’t be anticipated, an organization can have structure, plans and personnel in place to quickly and effectively address concerns of clients, customers, suppliers, employees and the public at large. Planning reduces panic and uncertainty and companies which adopt a posture of empathy, engagement and education find that even the worst of circumstances can have a silver lining.
Planning can ensure much better outcomes when facing a crisis or emergency. It is also important to revisit the events after the crisis has passed. Capturing learnings and assessing what worked and what can be improved will make your crisis plan for the future more effective and efficient. Evaluating the execution of your crisis plan will mean you are more prepared when and if crisis strikes again.
Follow the steps provided to ensure your organization establishes an effective communication strategy for times of crisis and beyond.
1) Assemble a Team
2) Consider All Internal and External Stakeholders
3) Be Prompt and Prepared
4) Consider Innovative Solutions
5) Choose Trained and Professional Spokesperson
6) Be Authentic and Candid
7) Craft Messages to Suit Your Audience
8) Location, Tone, Environment and Content are Critical to Effective Communication
9) Assess, Examine and Record
To get more Crisis Planning Resources visit ActionCOACH.com