We’ve all heard about scandals regarding businesses, celebrities, public figures and more in the media. The drama is so easy to get wrapped up in – until a crisis happens to your reputation, credibility or business and all you want to do is shy away from the problem until it dies down.
Gartner Glossary defines “crisis communication” as a strategy that enables an organization to protect its reputation when a crisis or business disruption strikes. It emphasized that to effectively communicate with your audience, you must have protocols for crafting, distributing and monitoring messages throughout the disruption’s time span.
Businesses of all sizes and markets are vulnerable to any disruption. For example, extreme weather, natural disaster, crime, cyber security attacks, product recalls, corporate misconduct, reputation hindrances, public relations incidents and more.
The worst thing you can do for your organization or business is to point the finger, assume the problem’s root, make generalized statements, and say “No comment.” In a media age where information spreads rapidly, you need to have a plan of action for tackling any sort of potential crisis.
A lot of businesses are complacent in not investing in a crisis plan because they think a PR crisis will never happen to them or that creating a plan will be very time consuming. At PREM, we firmly believe that crisis planning is what will make or break your business. The scenario below is how we would approach a crisis for one of our clients.
SCENARIO: You own a manufacturer company and a fire erupts in one of your warehouses. How would you handle this situation?
Crafting a Comprehensive Crisis Plan for Success
Crises must be and can be anticipated. Regardless of how atrocious the crisis, every incident can be managed. You need to have some sort of plan or anticipation because if you don’t, your narrative will become someone else's. Viewers, commentators, readers, consumers and media will take your silence or lack of initiative as a cue to criticize you or your business even further.
The Business Continuity Institute reported that only 84% of businesses have an emergency communication plan, with 55% using three or more communication processes in times of crisis. However, more than two-thirds of those businesses reported not feeling secure and confident in their crisis communication plans.
Preparing for any sort of potential crisis or even creating an outline of one puts you in a positive position that can save the longevity of your business and reputation in the future. With a plan, you can ensure that the relevant team members can quickly and adequately communicate to rectify the situation, protecting your customers, employees and assets. Having a plan will also save you critical time when an emergency does occur – and one will.
SCENARIO: First, you’d immediately need to notify the authorities and make sure that all of the employees present have made it out safely. Facilities, product and equipment should be the least of your concerns – those are replaceable, lives aren’t. The lives of your team should be your priority. Refer to your crisis plan for actionable steps during a situation like this.
Effective Communication: Informing Your Entire Team
Your team and employees are your most valuable asset. Before the public can criticize you, your team will. You need to keep them in the loop and relay pertinent information to them. Rumors generally begin internally, so by keeping them informed and building a valuable relationship with them, you create a pool of more trustworthy people who will vouch for you during times of crisis.
Your employees, leadership, the crisis management team, the PR team, the IT team, department heads, security personnel, local authorities, first responders and government officials should all be considered to be notified, depending on the situation. One of your main concerns may be providing counsel to the CEO in regards to the organization’s response to the emergency.
SCENARIO: Second, inform your entire team internally that you are aware of the crisis, working on handling the fire, and that further investigation is still ongoing. Let them know that your number one priority is the safety of the team and their mental health. You will need to have a route of addressing your team’s mental health immediately after something as serious as a fire. Have your legal team on standby or consult with one about the fire, depending on the damages and repercussions.
Maintaining Composure While Prioritizing Speed
As a communicator, you need to remain composed. The media and employees are allowed to panic, however, you need to take control of the situation. Assess your plan that you have created in advance and see how you can apply it to the crisis or use the most valuable parts of the plan that are applicable. If you do not have a plan, assess all of your options with your PR team and choose the best method of action to address the situation publicly.
There are a few standard protocols necessary to communicate efficiently during a crisis:
Speed is essential
Information moves at the speed of light on the Internet. Finances, reputation and operational components are at stake for your business. To protect them, you need to be prepared to relay necessary information to your team and audience quickly. Regardless of if you do not have all the details on the situation, by addressing the problem at hand, you show your audiences and team that you’re in control. It could be a long period of time before you even get the full details of the crisis. You do not have the luxury to wait for those responses. If anything, you can always do a follow-up announcement when you do have all of the information.
Communication must be in real time
PR should serve as the moral compass of your organization and act ethically. It is crucial that your PR team scrambles to articulate speeches, news conferences, media responses, reassures your team, communicates with your audiences and consults with your executive team – whatever is necessary to be the first to comment and address the situation. Once you’ve communicated with your team and audience, what has been relayed needs to be implemented immediately and easily accessible to refer back to.
SCENARIO: You need to quickly have a statement ready to give to the media before they arrive asking questions to people who do not represent your business. Make sure to brief your team beforehand so everyone is on the same page when they do speak to the media. Informing your team first builds more trust and calamity for when it is time to speak publicly on your behalf. Employees and staff respect an employer who cares about their wellbeing and addresses them first.
The Power of Transparency for your Reputation
Lies, evasion and deceit will single handedly destroy a business. It is vital that your business remains responsibly transparent because malfeasance will always make its way to headlines, and the worst way to ruin your reputation is by doing it yourself. Make sure you have considered the appropriateness and relevance of the information you choose to share during and consequently after a crisis.
If you share too little information, you will raise suspicions. If you share too much information, you can create potentially more liability for your business or brand. To make matters worse, saying, “No comment,” stirs the pot by conveying guilt, fear or lack of accountability.
SCENARIO: Whether you have the answers yet or not, be transparent with the media that you are working with authorities to address the damages of the fire and if you don’t have any answers, be genuine. Something along the lines of, “Our staff safety is our top priority. We cannot disclose any details at the moment because the investigation of the fire's damage is still ongoing. We are working closely with authorities to resolve and get to the bottom of this.”
Never engage in any cover-ups or unethical behavior. You are trying to salvage a bad situation with good intentions and honesty. Although it is a crisis, this is actually an opportunity to build trust with your audiences and build up your reputation with how you handle the situation. Remain calm and handle the crisis with poise. Crises are only temporary; the way you handle a crisis will leave a lasting impression.
If you have any questions about Crisis Communication you can contact PREM at firstname.lastname@example.org.