By Andy Lowe
Successful crisis communications strategizing occurs before an incident. But, in the heat of the moment, it can be difficult to prioritize and act accordingly. My boss at the college radio station believed in Murphy’s Law: If anything can go wrong, it will. While I don’t share that same sense of optimism, it instilled in me that it’s best to have a plan when things inevitably go awry.
Product recalls, natural disasters, pandemics, leadership and employee issues are all grounds for crisis communications. When they do occur, take a deep breath, and consider these seven tips to act accordingly.
- Get Your Crisis Team Together: Convene your team as quickly as possible to establish roles and responsibilities. Keep the team small and expand as needed to minimize the chance of misinformation and security leaks before you know more.
- Find Out the Facts: To fix the problem, you must understand the cause. You may get press inquiries at this time. It is okay to tell them you are looking into it and will follow up with them as soon as you know more – just make sure to keep your promise.
- Determine Who is Affected and to What Degree: Identify your audiences and the severity of the impact on each of them. Determine the most vulnerable group and focus your efforts there and prioritize accordingly.
- Develop Key Messages and Strategy with Honesty, Empathy and Responsibility in Mind: Collect all the information you can. Do not speculate. If you don’t have all the information, be honest. Own mistakes and take responsibility when warranted. Be genuine and show empathy for those affected. Hollow apologies are easy to spot and will negatively impact the company’s standing in the media and court of public opinion.
- Assess and Prepare Internal and External Communications: The crisis impacts internal audiences, e.g., employees, and external audiences, e.g., consumers and the press, differently. Differentiate and prepare your communications appropriately. Note: any communications distributed internally have the potential to be leaked to the press – even with NDAs.
- Adhere to Legal Guidelines: Your legal counsel is a crucial component of the crisis team. All messaging should be run through them for approval.
- Commit to the Job, Implement with Honesty: There is no set schedule for a crisis – some take days, others take months. The media appreciates availability and honesty. Customers appreciate ownership and will take their business elsewhere if they feel they’ve been misled.
For more on crisis communications, we’ve published a free checklist for crisis communications.