We all make mistakes. For brands, crisis situations can come out of nowhere. They can be caused by external events, completely outside of the organisation’s control – or blame can be directly laid at your door.
Either way, as brands and comms professionals, we’re judged and perceived based on how we react to these situations. In fact, the way brands react to and rectify a mistake can often engender more positive sentiment and trust from customers than if the mistake didn’t happen in the first place.
The world of tourism and travel is littered with PR disasters, poorly-handled crises and media faux pas. To avoid something similar happening to your brand, it’s critical you possess a thorough and robust crisis communications plan, along with a spokesperson (or spokespeople) who can do it justice.
6 steps for a successful crisis comms plan
- Training and preparation: When it comes to crisis comms, preparation really is the key to success, and training sits at the heart of this. Consider creating dedicated crisis communications teams, and invest in regular media training and scenario days, where your teams react to common incidents within your industry. For example, airlines can prepare for crises related to passenger ejections from planes – or else risk becoming another cautionary United Airlines tale.
- Speed is key: Timely prepared statements form a critical part of a successful crisis comms plan. The key is balance. To react too soon, before all the details are available, could cause issues further down the line, including legal headaches. Release a statement too late though, and you’ve likely allowed harmful rumours and speculation to develop. Consider creating templates that can help cut down some of the more manual aspects of crisis comms, freeing your team to focus on assimilating the most relevant details of the incident.
- Explain the context: Despite time being of the essence, it’s extremely important crisis comms teams get their facts straight before releasing any statements. The materials must clearly and accurately communicate the context of a scenario, without unnecessary bias. Teams must also separate the relevance of important information – for example, some details will be more pertinent to stakeholders and employees, while other contextual information will resonate more with customers and the general public.
- Take responsibility: One of the worst things brands can do in a crisis is dodge blame. While context is key, your spokesperson and key messaging must assume the right level of responsibility for the incident, and any ensuing damage it has caused. Acknowledging the wrongdoing, and listing the impact on everyone involved, is a key step in re-establishing any lost trust among stakeholders and the public.
- Clarify actions: Once the initial dust has settled, it’s important to outline exactly how your company is going to address, and potentially rectify, the issues caused. It’s critical you fully commit to every action your company outlines. To throw about empty promises at this stage of the crisis can cause even more damage in the long term.
- Post-crisis strategy: A successful crisis comms plan isn’t just your short-term reaction to the incident, it’s also a considered and lengthy series of learnings that can be applied to future events. Consider including past crises as part of your scenario training, asking employees how they’d approach the incident differently. An honest and transparent approach will pay dividends in the future, boosting your company’s resilience.
Choosing the right crisis comms spokesperson
Just as critical as a solid crisis comms plan is the person who’s going to be the public face of it. Here are four integral attributes every successful crisis comms spokesperson should possess:
- Human: We know this sounds obvious – but there’s nothing worse than a spokesperson who makes it painfully transparent that they are reading from a pre-prepared script, crammed with corporate jargon and in a robotic voice. This person must have personality and gravitas, while also remaining humble, respectful and empathetic.
- Authentic: Remember, your spokesperson is speaking to employees, stakeholders, customers and the public – not the media, which is merely the conduit. That’s why, when it comes to crisis comms, you don’t have to limit yourself to one spokesperson. Depending on the nature of the crisis, a senior spokesperson is important, but it doesn’t always have to be the CEO – consider other members of your senior management team to prepare. The key is choosing someone that can truly relate to the issue at hand, and speak with confidence, authenticity and subject matter expertise.
- In Control: First impressions matter when it comes to crisis comms, of course – but equally important is your spokesperson’s ability to react and remain in control. Thorough preparation helps, such as key talking points and answers to common queries. But your spokesperson must also possess the innate ability to quickly think on their feet should journalists or media put forward any challenging or unpredictable questions.
- Safe: Crisis comms can be an absolute minefield, with constantly-evolving situations often posing legal serious risks. That’s why spokespeople must be calm and composed, thoroughly aware of which questions they can answer, which information they can impart and at which times they’re allowed to do so.
If you would like to chat through what your business needs to do to prepare for a crisis, or if your team requires crisis communications training, do get in touch.