Now more than ever it is very clear that organizations that had a clear crisis communication plan in place have been able to pivot much better than those that did not. The goal of a plan is to know what to do, before you actually have to do it. There are three phases to creating a robust crisis communication plan; Before. During. After.
The major components to The Before Phase include prep work, knowing your audience, knowing your stakeholders and identifying your crisis management team.
Please do not place the entire responsibility of communicating during a crisis on the marketing department.
The common members of the crisis team are:
Clearly depending on the structure of your business, you may not have all the people to fill the roles, just make sure you have the perspective from each role. For example, you may not have security, but you can put systems in place that include security or even consult with a security professional. Thinking about security could include crowd management, theft, cyber, property or information.
Your audience are the receivers of the message. Their primary participation is to observe the communication and changes. Your stakeholders on the other hand are the individuals directly impacted by the organizations decisions and actions. Lets say there was a building fire in the middle of the night. No one was injured, however officially when you announce next steps, the stakeholders are your employees, production and service partners and the audience is the general public.
Once you have your team and you know who you are speaking to and what you will be talking about. Its time to do the prep work. The prep work includes workflows, policies, procedures and templates.
Your templates should include:
Your workflows should include:
During the crisis it is critical to follow three primary guidelines. Be quick. Be accurate. Be consistent. It is far better to over communicate less information accurately than it is to under communicate false information.
Waiting to respond allows space and time for rumors, panic and conspiracy. The sooner you respond, the sooner you can dispel the negativity and the less you will have to do to repair for your reputation. An early response is typically within the hour of the crisis awareness. Owning your own communication platforms will prove to be vital as you can communicate without the discrepancy of the media creating their own version. A quick response shows your organizations position and control of the crisis.
Identify your primary spokesperson. This person should have some experience. If not there should be training provided prior to the crisis. Posting on social media or sending a newsletter are completely different from standing in front of a room full of reporters answering questions about a crisis. Report from facts only. Don’t make assumptions while reporting. It may seem frustrating, however it is better to be accurate than take back something you said in error.
Confirm that your message is the same across all platforms. If you typically share from an educational position, continue to report out that way. Keep you brand in place and remember once you send it out, its out there forever. Depending on the type of crisis, establish a communication cadence. Emails every Monday, social media post every day at 11 am, employee mass text every Friday. Think about the weather. Most stations report the weather a certain time on the hour. Building your communication around a cadence will help you build trust with your audience and stakeholders.
After a crisis the focus is on repairing anything the crisis destroyed, including apologizing, corrective actions, compensation, and brand reputation.
A true apology does not include the word “but”. “But” automatically cancels out an apology, and nearly always introduces a criticism or excuse. A true apology keeps the focus on your actions—and not on the other person’s response. A true apology needs to be backed by corrective action. A true apology requires that you do your best to avoid a repeat performance.
Corrective action is not meant to be a knee jerk response to a crisis. Corrective action requires a thoughtful response. It needs to make sense for the organization on all operational, financial and sustainability levels. The last thing you want to do is resolve one issue and create another. Yes, lowering a price of a product or service sounds appealing, but what are the ripple affects?
Although this seems like a no-brainer depending on the crisis, consider the risk of appearing heartless or providing hush money. If compensation is the best response, be sure that it complements the crisis. Compensation can also come in the form of payroll or additional benefits.
Resorting your brand’s reputation actually happens during and after the crisis. Your reputation can be restored using various strategies such as Defeasibility, which is the lack of information about events leading to the crisis situation. Simply put, you didn’t know. You announce what measures you will put in place so there isn’t any additional miscommunication or lack of communication moving forward. You continue to communicate thr status of the newly placed policies and be transparent. Don’t run or hide or even assume that people forgot. Stick to you communication plan.
Here is a quick checklist of everything mentioned above: