By: Briar Prestidge
Crises are a reality in the world today. Businesses must anticipate a crisis and have a contingency action plan in place. Of course, one could not have foreseen the societal impact of the current global pandemic COVID-19. Schools and businesses around the world have been compelled to close, countries forced to close borders and implement house isolation measures and stock markets saw unmatched falls. While there is always an uncertainty in a crisis, it can be conditioned so the negative impact on an organization or individual’s reputation or credibility can be lessened.
The communication teams within an organization, in cooperation with their senior leaders, must place an importance on media training to ensure a spokesperson is well-versed in public response.
Content relevance is important when speaking with the media but the timing of one’s comment and the information shared or lack of, is just as crucial. Divulging too much information can result in a liability for the organization or the individual but lack of information could create a ‘No comment’ situation which is often perceived as a negative response.
Here are three communication tips you can implement while managing a crisis:
Proactivity; Plan ahead
Work closely with your internal communications team or hire an agency to conduct an extensive brainstorm session to help you identify possible crisis scenarios that may occur and preemptively prepare a response and action plan. Through this exercise, you may realize that some of the situations may be preventable by simply altering your existing operations.
Plan a strategy of possible responses to these scenarios, tailored replies for social media, answers for anticipated questions from the media, and finalize the core response team that will be responsible for executing your Crisis Response strategy. Remember, it’s better to create a plan of action as opposed to when a crisis occurs and response time is delayed or staggered.
Be transparent and acknowledge
In the face of a crisis, access the situation calmly. Yes, you will need to acknowledge the situation – the days of burying your head in the sand and wishing it all away are long gone! Don’t let your emotions get the best of you; work on the facts, not how you feel. You will have to respond quickly, but ensure the accuracy of facts before you respond. Acknowledge the situation and share a plan of action as to how you will address it.
Cadbury had a PR disaster in 2003 when two of their chocolate bars were found infested with worms, in India. They took a moment to respond, but when they did, they took their advertising off the air and they updated the media on the steps they were taking to correct the storage and manufacturing process. They bought new machinery and changed the packaging. Four months’ later consumer confidence was back to normal.
Align your messaging
Assign one person to manage the situation (because as they say, too many cooks can spoil the broth!). All organizational messaging, even those from your different stakeholders, should be unified messages that have all been agreed on. Speak to the junior members of your team to ensure that no one will be commenting on the situation on or off the record, or indulging in social media comments, unless pre-approved by the Crisis Communication team. Utilize all communication channels, including traditional media, social media, and emails to get your message across effectively.
Lead with empathy
Internally communicating with your team on what is happening is just as important as communicating your message to the general public. During time of crisis, your team’s focus would shift to their Maslow’s hierarchy of needs being affected and addressed. Employees may be fearful if the situation could possibly affect their employment status. Avoid job cuts and redundancies – your team is the backbone of your organization after all.
Companies WILL face crisis, there is no doubt about it. News has the ability to go viral in a flash on social media, so get your ducks in a row, plan ahead, preempt and prepare.