Crisis Communications: Are You Prepared?
By Erika Dawkins
Lecturer of Public Relations, Columbia College
One thing Covid-19 has uncovered is the importance of having a plan in case of the unexpected or a crisis. A crisis can be defined as any situation that is threatening or could cause harm to people or property, seriously interrupt business, significantly damage reputation and negatively impact the bottom line. Unfortunately, many businesses learn the importance of crisis management the hard way.
While about 62 percent of businesses have a crisis plan put in place, often, updates aren’t made, leadership isn’t well versed on potential threats or the effectiveness of the strategy isn’t tested. Of the 62 percent that have a plan in place, about 50 percent of those either need to update their plan or don’t know if it’s up to date. Reports also indicate that most companies rarely practice crisis scenarios to determine the effectiveness of their plan.
A significant part of any crisis management plan is the communication segment. Having a crisis communication plan as part of this strategy is vital to its execution.
Often, we look at business communications through a narrow lens. Most immediately think of corporate/internal communications and digital media when thinking of communications, each of which are more proactive forms of communication. However, the forms of communication that require us to react are often most impactful. A crisis isn’t always a corporate scandal or a faulty product. It can be a natural crisis, lawsuit, accusation or sudden changes in leadership. It’s important to understand that every organization is vulnerable to crisis. If you aren’t prepared, you may incur more damage.
Crises are often unavoidable, and today, when a crisis occurs, you’re expected to talk about it. If you’re going to talk about it, you will want people to believe you. Whether your communication is a press release, interview with the media, social media post or other modes of communication, you want to ensure you get it right.
The basic steps of effective communications are not difficult, but they do require advance work to get ahead of potential damage. The five common types of crises - financial, personnel, organizational, technological and natural - are all equally damaging.
You may not be able to control the crisis, but you can control your response. To prepare any crisis communication you should address three very important pieces:
Consideration: Crises often happen at the most unexpected and inconvenient time. Addressing it as early as possible, and accurately, can work in your favor. Allowing the crisis to fester may convince your stakeholders that you aren’t taking the situation seriously. React fast, but effectively. A quick response, especially in the age of social media, is important if you wish to get ahead of the crisis and express your urgency to address it.
While timeliness is important, it must be coupled with accuracy. A botched response to a crisis is the last thing any business wants to experience. This can propel what could have been a lower-level crisis to a top-tier crisis very quickly. It’s important to demonstrate that you truly understand and display your care for those impacted by the crisis by providing a quick and meaningful response.
Confidence: Projecting confidence in your words and actions is a must when handling any crisis situation. If the cause of the crisis has the potential to cause a loss of trust from your stakeholders, it’s important that your communications are both robust and reassuring. Often, this means consulting legal counsel or having a publicist step in to help. These people are often less emotionally invested in the crisis and will help craft an appropriate and confident message.
Knowledge: Your audience will figure out very quickly if you don’t know what you’re talking about. Based on whom the crisis is impacting, you may need to create a variety of messages. Knowing the type of information to reveal to each audience is pertinent. Customers will need one type of information and the press another. Design communications specifically for each stakeholder, including only the necessary and relevant information to that group.
A crisis can ruin a business’s reputation that’s taken years to build. Having a well thought out crisis communication plan can help ensure you aren’t scrambling when the unexpected happens. Overall, your crisis communication plan is designed to provide you the steps to help you quickly contain the crisis and recover from its impact. With this, whether you’re dealing with a faulty product or bad customer review, you will be able to react quickly, with confidence and with the right message. Get the answers to the people with the questions as quickly and effectively as possible.
Start preparing today!