HOW TO PREPARE FOR CRISIS COMMUNICATIONS: 5 PRACTICAL STEPS
Last week, we shared how effective communication in a crisis can either make or break an organization’s reputation. Those prepared for a crisis can mitigate damage and even build trust with target audiences. Unprepared organizations will appear, at best, disorganized and incompetent, and at worst, indifferent.
These practical steps can help an organization prepare for a crisis, especially when completed in partnership with a crisis communications expert.
1. Identify potential crisis scenarios
Take several hours to brainstorm potential issues your organization may face, both large and small. While the “ifs” and “buts” can extend to complex scenarios, focus on the scenarios most likely to occur. For instance, a oil and gas company based in the Bakkan oil field may want to consider a range of scenarios. These scenarios might include anything from employees alleging unfair labor practices to a pipeline explosion, due to negligence, that is causing millions of dollars in damage to neighboring community. Once five to ten scenarios have been identified, decide how your organization will attempt to manage the crisis and better the situation.
2. Create Standard Operating Procedures for a Crisis Decide who will serve as the main spokesperson for your organization. This may be the president, CEO, communications director, department supervisor or other depending on the size and experience of your staff. Some situations require a spokesperson with greater expertise or authority so clarify, in writing, the chain of command for interviews during a crisis. Standard Operating Procedures should also include: How the spokesperson will disseminate information and at what frequency, timing for responding to media requests, social media policies, and methods to address a crisis (press release, press conference, social media, etc.) This is not an all-inclusive checklist but it will provide a good start for standard operating procedures. Draft these procedures into an official plan and distribute to all members of management.
3. Get Your Message Straight
Clarity, consistency, and accuracy are key to an effective communication strategy, especially in a crisis. Does your organization have a vision (why your organization exists), mission (how it will executes vision) and key messages (three to five messages that express the core values/key information of the company)? If not, this step is vital. Without consistent messaging, an organization’s image can be easily manipulated or damaged. By ensuring your team understands the “Why” and “How” – the core values of your company – they will be empowered to deliver messaging more effectively, reducing misunderstandings during a crisis.
4. Practice Makes Perfect
Public Speaking is the number one fear of Americas, ranking ahead of heights, natural disasters, and other things that make the blood run cold. Obviously, few are comfortable with speaking in front of an audience and of those, even less are trained to deliver messaging through the media. Imagine, a crisis, and you’re on the spot with a reporter asking tough questions. A little preparation sounds like a wise idea, doesn’t it? Invest in training anyone who will serve as a spokesperson for your company. Even a half day session with a media training expert will help your spokesperson stay on message and avoid saying things that may further damage the company’s reputation. For a great example of how how not to speak to the media, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford provides an excellent example. Without preparation, anyone can appear as defensive and guilty as Mayor Ford.
5. Educate Your Team: Loose Lips Sink Ships
In crisis communications, loose lips sink ships. How? A reporter calls the front desk of a company in crisis and asks the receptionist a few questions. In an effort to be helpful, the receptionist answers the reporter’s questions and suddenly the receptionist, who is not an expert in communication, has accidentally said something that reflects poorly on the company. Now, it’s front page news. Avoid this scenario: Train the entire team for a crisis. First, distribute standard operating procedures for media inquiries that clearly outlines who should respond to these requests. Second, invest professional development dollars to ensure staff knows the company’s vision, mission, and key messages and is speaking on message when interfacing with the general public. Last, help employees understands the importance of consistent messaging.
Note: These steps serve as a recommendation. They are not a fully inclusive crisis communications plan nor do we guarantee that by taking these steps, a company can avoid damage during a crisis. While we believe these methods are effective, they are not fail proof and are best executed in partnership with a communications expert.