Crisis Communications comes down to a few fundamentals
A crisis is the very essence of the unforeseen making itself bare — a surprise, unmitigated, that suddenly pops up and has an adverse effect on your business. And, as former light heavyweight champion Willie Pastrano said, “The punch you don’t see is the punch that hurts.”
Communications often stands as the public voice of the company in crises; it protects the brand, coordinates the response among various internal stakeholders and keeps informed, as able, the public with factual information. In a crisis, Communications must be reliable and discerning. The stakes rise. Every single word could become part of a future legal or governmental action. And poorly managed, long-term brand value could slide.
Any person who has experienced a business crisis knows the repercussions of saying the wrong thing and the scrutiny following any action. Here are a few tips that we rely on when confronting something that could be damaging for our clients:
In the beginning, less is more
It’s almost impossible to imagine a crisis where the business has complete insight into what went wrong and how to correct it. Far more likely is a chaotic period, where a lot of information — some of it completely wrong — is being shared. As Mark Twain once said, “A lie can get around the world before the truth has time to put on its shoes.”
It’s important to not react in these moments. Instead, take a moment to assemble the appropriate team — who is available, who isn’t, and who has to be at the table? They could have backgrounds in the Legal department, HR, Marketing or more. Don’t add more than necessary — the team should be lean, but having the right people, who can approve the right message is crucial.
Next, formulate a rough plan and draft a statement. Relying on the team to provide the facts, and keeping it high level is crucial so you won’t end up backtracking later.
Rely on your “owned” channels
Whether it’s a blog, a website or a social media channel, now is the time to rely on the channels that you own. In the immediate time following a crisis, it’ll be difficult for you to understand properly what’s going on, let alone communicate it out in a way that someone else can have a clear understanding of the situation.
By relying on your own channels, you avoid risking your message being misconstrued. Moreover, reporters are intelligent and thoughtful, and understand how to get a reaction. Crises come with extreme amounts of stress, and the worst thing would be to become emotional with someone who buys ink by the gallon.
In the immediate moments of a crisis, with a holding statement on your owned channels, you have time to understand the situation and formulate how to respond appropriately and provide the reporters the facts they need to write fair stories.
Once you begin communicating, consistency is key
Responses should come as soon as possible, and once the first response to a crisis occurs, it’s important that there’s a plan for how to get more information out as it’s known. You don’t want someone else to tell your story.
This is the moment to develop a host of communications — to internal audiences and employees, which reminds them of the importance to send requests to Communications; to reporters that provides the holding statement and requests follow up questions go to one point of contact; or to the public at large when more information is available.
Regardless of the audience, though, you should always be consistent in your message and communicate the facts as you have them, being careful to never overextend or find yourselves in a difficult position later.
Trust the pros
Perhaps the single greatest piece of advice is to listen to the console of the people you’ve hired to shepherd the process along and respond appropriately. In the case of media relations, PR professionals like Bear Icebox, often have relationships with the reporters covering the story and have spent years drafting messages on just this occasion. We understand some of the legal pitfalls and, most importantly, our own lack of knowledge. So often in a crisis “I don’t know,” is the best answer, as long as it’s followed by the promise, “But I’ll find out.”
If you’re in the hunt for a PR/Content creation with experience in earned, shared and owned channels, reach out and let us know. We’d love to talk more.