By Cheyenne Mejia | Published: July 26, 2021
At DRIVEN360, our public relations team views crisis communications simply as the challenge of preserving the corporate reputation and engaging your critical stakeholders amid a crisis situation. There is no more significant challenge for a seasoned PR or IR pro than responding to and having preparedness for a time of crisis. Thus, 99% of crisis events can easily be managed with the proper preparation and support.
As the Chinese symbol for a crisis indicates, a crisis represents both danger and opportunity. There is tremendous value when perceiving a crisis scenario as an opportunity as you plan and prepare to handle different scenarios. It is 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 shine through. Conversely, all the training and preparation money can buy cannot hide a culture of arrogance, condescension, or indifference.
Some of the most common definitions of a PR crisis include 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 eventually end, and business will return to normal, but ‘how’ your company is perceived after the fact will depend on your crisis management strategy. Your ability to demonstrate goodwill, sincerity, and willingness to communicate is vital in effective crisis communication. In all types of crises, your crisis management team is presented with an opportunity to spotlight your core values and enhance your organization’s reputation. Below is an outline of several vital 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 managing potential crises, and training the spokesperson 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 in real-time? (Media involvement at several stages)
- What key messages do you need to get across? (Consider all internal and external 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 collecting and processing information for the crisis team members. This includes decision-making in collaboration with multiple internal stakeholders (Legal, HR, Corporate Security, Marketing, etc.) along with creating and disseminating crisis messages.
It is essential to be flexible and allow your messages to develop as things evolve and as additional information becomes available. Escalating levels of holding statements and other messages can be created, approved by the crisis team, and put on standby for quick editing and press releases when needed.
Another principal element of the crisis communications plan is the need to coordinate the release of information to ensure consistency of the message. For example, telling one audience one story and another a different story will raise questions of competency and credibility.
As things progress, the crisis communications team should start proactively implementing that strategy by alleviating 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. In addition, the organization needs to release updates on the recovery process, corrective actions, and investigations of the crisis.
Finally, as with all good PR or IR campaigns, it is key to reflect through an evaluative procedure. While the event is still fresh in everyone’s mind, it is an excellent time to assess how your crisis team–and the organization–managed through their responsibilities while the stakes were high. There is nothing like real-life experience to help bring a more adaptive emergency response to adverse conditions, identify process gaps, unforeseen risks, and vulnerabilities, and overlook stakeholders.