At DRIVEN360, we view crisis communications simply as the challenge of preserving corporate reputation and engaging your key stakeholders amid great uncertainty. There is no greater challenge for a seasoned PR or IR pro than responding to an issue. Thus, with the right preparation and support, 99% of crises can easily be managed.
As the Chinese symbol for a crisis indicates, a crisis represents both danger and opportunity. There is tremendous value when perceiving a crisis as an opportunity as you plan and prepare to handle different scenarios, and it’s important to remember that every crisis provides a window into the character of your company. In these moments, highly regarded values such as transparency, integrity and accountability will all shine through. Conversely, all the training and preparation that money can buy, cannot hide a culture of arrogance, condescension or indifference.
Some of the most common definitions of a crisis includes any situation that threatens to:
- Harm employees
- Damage company property
- Significantly interrupt business operations
- Damage reputation
- Negatively impact the bottom line
At the end of the day, all crises will come to an end, and business will return to normal, but ‘how’ your company is perceived after the fact will depend on your ability to demonstrate good will, sincerity and willingness to communicate, and show efforts to preserve company reputation by emphasizing its core values. Below is an outline of several key milestones from pre- to post-crisis where we often work closely with clients as they navigate their crisis management plans and protocols.
PREPARE FOR THE WORST
Today’s business environment requires a robust, enterprise-wide plan to deal with unexpected crises. Company reputation and brand, as well as the trust and loyalty of stakeholders, are all critical factors in the background of crisis management.
In the pre-crisis stage, crisis communication revolves around monitoring crisis risks, making decisions about how to manage potential crises, and training people who will be involved in the crisis management process.
Here are several questions to consider when drafting scenarios for a crisis response plan:
- What are the issues?
- How might it play out? (Media involvement at several stages)
- What do you need to get across? (Consider all stakeholders)
- What is our position? (What messages should be public & when)
- What are the legal issues and considerations?
- What can we say?
- What can’t we say?
- How might these messages be manipulated by others?
COMMUNICATE EARLY AND OFTEN
Execution during a crisis will remain heavily focused on the collection and processing of information for the crisis team. This includes decision making in collaboration with multiple internal stakeholders (Legal, HR, Corporate Security, Marketing, etc…) along with the creation and dissemination of crisis messages.
It’s important to be flexible and allow your messages to develop as things evolve and as new information becomes available. Escalating levels of holding statements and other messages can be developed, approved by the crisis team and put on standby for quick editing, and released when needed.
Another important element of the crisis communications plan is the need to coordinate the release of information to ensure consistency of the message. If you tell one audience one story and another audience a different story, it will raise questions of competency and credibility.
As things progress, the crisis communications team should start to proactively implement that strategy by allaying the concerns of each audience and positioning the organization to emerge from the incident with its reputation intact.
AFTER ACTION REPORT/POSTMORTEM
Ongoing post-crisis communication involves providing follow-up crisis messages as needed. The organization needs to release updates on the recovery process, corrective actions, and/or investigations of the crisis.
Finally, as with all good PR or IR campaigns, it’s key to reflect through an evaluative procedure. While the event is still fresh in everyone’s mind, it’s a good time to assess how your crisis team–and the organization–managed through their individual responsibilities while the stakes were high. There’s nothing like real-life experience to help bring more adaptive responses to adverse conditions, identify process gaps, unforeseen risks and vulnerabilities, and overlooked stakeholders.