The ‘Could you cope in a crisis’ quiz in the latest issue of PR week highlighted some right and very wrong responses for crisis communications. But you’ll be lucky to manage a response at all if you’re not prepared. No one wants to think about the possibility of a crisis, but it could happen to any company, with varying degrees of severity (from basic product faults to national disasters on the scale of Deepwater Horizon). Ignoring the possibilities could leave you on the back-foot and vulnerable to bad publicity, a drop in sales and loss of revenue – or worse.
Thorough and effective preparation will arm you with a strong and cohesive crisis communications mechanism to reassure stakeholders or counter criticism. It’s essential to pre-empt and prepare for as many potential eventualities BEFORE you have to deal with them. Here are our tips for being as primed as possible:
- Establish an on-call rosta of crisis response team members, so there is always someone ‘on duty’- crises don’t just happen during office hours. Make sure they know when they’re on and what their responsibilities are.
- Create a workflow for what to do in a crisis and a list of who to call in any scenario.
- Train staff on how to deal with the media beforehand and give them easy access to a briefing document outlining potential questions and answers and important company information. This way, staff can produce confident and informed responses if put on the spot by the media.
- In crises, timing is of the essence– you can’t afford bottlenecks when the pressure is on. Ensure that you have a quick and streamlined approval process.
Preparing is essential but your chosen response to a crisis could make or break your reputation. The right course of action varies with the situation but you should always respond quickly, honestly and sympathetically.
Responding quickly will allow you to take an active part in shaping the dialogue around an event and potentially nip the issue in the bud before the rumour-mill gets going.
Responding honestly is always best long term. The results of a crises will be greatly exacerbated if it is discovered that you have lied or covered something up. If you’re wrong, admit it and apologise. Don’t gloss over negatives, address them head on but don’t be afraid to point out where you’ve done good things too.
Responding sympathetically will help salve anger at you and your company. Talk like a human, not a corporation and treat your audience as humans too. Don’t patronise and don’t point the finger at others, it’s unprofessional and will only make matters worse.
With these words of wisdom under your belt, implement a crisis communications strategy as early as possible to ensure that you’ll be ready if the worst happens. And why not have another crack at that quiz?