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Crisis ready: four steps to effective crisis communications management 

Crisis Communications - 5th July 2018
Media interview

1. Preparation is key

You simply cannot be too prepared when it comes to crisis management. Sure, you are unlikely to be able to predict the exact scenario you will face in a crisis, but you can take a detailed look at your organisation and anticipate its vulnerabilities, identify roles and responsibilities and prepare documents and dark sites beforehand.

Companies need strong leadership and expertise during a crisis. It’s a good idea to assign a specialist public relations team to develop your crisis communications plan, draft written statements, manage media inquiries and train spokespeople.

So, don’t wait until you are in a crisis to start putting your media and communications plan together. Put time and money into preparing manuals and online reference sources, media training and crisis communications simulations. Commonly known as ‘The Red Book’, a crisis preparedness plan should include:

  • Policies and procedure documents
  • Ready-to-use company and media information
  • Materials to be used by media communicators, such as standard media enquire response scripts, log sheets and quick reference lists of spokespeople per topic
  • Dark sites: fully equipped online press rooms and customer information sites for use in crises often help to streamline the management of enquiries.

4. Identify your spokespeople

The person you put out in front of the media during a crisis should reflect your company and brand. It’s important to consider intangible elements like likeability and believability. A company’s CEO is expected to be the voice of confidence and trust during a crisis, but this is not the time to test whether the CEO is the right person for the job. Again, advance preparation and training is crucial.

3. Be honest, transparent and direct

The best policy is always to respond quickly and honestly. Initial statements by a company spokesperson sets the tone for how the media and public will respond throughout the crisis. If a spokesperson takes too long to respond because they are waiting for legal departments to sign off on a formal statement, opinion will have already been formed by the time they deliver it.

Following a serious incident, particularly when there are people’s lives or livelihoods at risk, your spokesperson should be prepared to speak from the heart, using the following guidelines:

  • Show acceptance that the incident has happened
  • Express regret
  • Talk about what the company is doing or will be doing to help

There is a tendency for spokespeople, especially CEO, to use formal language when they are under stress or in the spotlight. This kind of language can make them seem unfeeling. It is feelings as much as facts that make people like and trust CEOs in a crisis.

4. Don’t forget social media

In times of crisis, social media can be both overwhelming and instantly damaging if not monitored and managed correctly. Make sure you have a social media team set up and equipped to closely monitor the digital space. Having tools in place beforehand that monitor social channels is a must. It goes without saying, but speed matters. Use predetermined and approved key messages to respond to questions and statements and if necessary, direct queries to a FAQ webpage.

It’s also important to identify and build a relationship with your key social influencers in advance. You will need these stakeholders to be in your corner should negativity start to spread.