Have you ever considered how your organization would react in a potential crisis? If your answer is no, then you already missed the first steps of a successful crisis communication strategy. No matter if your business is a flower shop or a big pharma corporation, a public relations crisis is inevitable and unforeseeable.
The COVID-19 pandemic is a clear example of an "everything-could-happen-to-the-world" idea, not to mention to a business. Crises are cyclical and depending on the type of crisis (economic, health, technological, etc) they happen regularly, and their effects spread over the global economy and population. In the current situation, we face a health crisis – the COVID-19 pandemic, that will most likely result in an economic crisis or even a global recession.
By not being prepared, you can cause serious damage not only to your brand but also to your relationship with your customers and partners. The way you react in a crisis shows the “true face” of your company and strongly influences the general public’s perception of your brand.
Crises can be internal or external. Internal crises are related to the inside processes of the company, a systemic failure for example, or in relation to the personnel or company’s representatives. External crises involve an event that is out of the company’s control, like natural disasters or pandemics.
Having in mind all these scenarios, you can now start planning.
Before the crisis
1. Establish a crisis communication team
Designate an internal team that will monitor and handle a public relations crisis. The team members should participate in a vulnerabilities assessment and kept informed about important events and changes in your organization.
Select at least one senior specialist from marketing, PR, security, risk management and legal. The leader of the team should be the CEO. Depending on the situation, during the actual crisis, other key-people from the departments involved should be included.
2. Vulnerabilities assessment
Gather your crisis communication team and start analyzing what are your organization’s vulnerabilities and the type of crisis more likely to occur.
After the vulnerabilities assessment you should have answers to the following questions:
What are the specific risks for our industry?
What kind of public relations crisis has occurred in our business field in recent years?
What major changes are we planning to do inside our organization that could have repercussions for the public?
What kind of risks and accidents have we experienced before?
What parts of our organization are the most exposed?
What kind of external events can occur that would have a major impact on our organization?
These brainstorming sessions will not only prepare you but also help you discover what are your company weak points and maybe find a way to solve them and avoid a crisis altogether.
3. Select a spokesperson
Select an appropriate organization representative that will be the only authorized spokesperson to speak during a crisis. Ideally, you should have a few trained members to be the lead and/or back-up spokesperson.
The authorized spokesperson should have the right position in the company to be considered relevant for the public and topic. Ensure that he/she has the right skills for the task:
Has public speaking abilities
Is comfortable speaking in front of a camera
Is clear and concise in communicating
Is be flexible and spontaneous in answering unanticipated questions
Can manage stressful situations
We all know that one piece of information can go viral across social platforms in a split of a second.
Monitor every channel where your organization is present. Make sure that your marketing and PR team is constantly looking over notifications on your communication channels and takes each signal of a potential crisis seriously. Just one comment on a Facebook post can explode and ruin your reputation.
The customer service team should permanently keep in contact with the company’s decision-makers and report potentially harmful situations.
Besides the official company pages on Social Media and communication channels, you can proactively keep a close eye on your online presence and share of voice. You can appoint a Google Alert, for example, to get notified when your company name is mentioned on the Internet. Or use a monitoring platform to closely check your press mentions and share of voice.
5. Prepare a holding statement
Don’t wait until the crisis hits and your company has been caught unprepared. In crises, people tend to get emotional, having in mind the stakes of their statement, so they delay their response and worsen the situation.
Think of the most probable crisis scenarios and draft a few general statements. You can complete them with the specific details when the times comes, but at least you will have a template to work on.
During the crisis
6. Asses the crisis
If you have in place a crisis communication team that has followed the previous steps, the informing part will be easy. They will provide you with the right information so you can make the right decision.
Gather a meeting with the crisis communication team and have a briefing on the situation. Establish which are the stakeholders involved, the level of damage, the current state of the crisis and if the news has already gotten to the media.
Without implementing the previous steps, your response would have been delayed and you wouldn’t have the same amount of time to assess the situation and calmly get to a solution. All the steps would have been taken in a rush from the beginning and the level of damage would have been exponentially increased.
7. Adapt the messages
With the holding statements template at hand, now is the time to finalize and adapt the message. Keep in mind:
If people are harmed in any way, even if in a non-physical way, first apologize. Craft a heartfelt and sincere message and send it as quickly as possible. Don’t wait until you find the perfect action plan. In this kind of situation, showing your sensitive and human side is essential.
Be transparent. This is the worse time to hide information if it isn’t confidential or harmful. In every situation, hidden information will backlash and cause more damage to your reputation. Give the complete briefing of the events, even if it can put your company in a bad light.
In the current situation, with the pandemic of COVID-19, let’s say one of your employees gets infected with the virus. Don’t try to cover the case; instead, be transparent and inform your employees and external parts that you have taken all the measures to keep them safe and show empathy to the infected person.
Closely communicate with your employees. The people inside your organization should be the first ones to get informed about the crisis. Rumours are very dangerous and can get out of control. Your employees will spread information, nevertheless, so make sure they at least have the right information. But most importantly, it shows respect for your employees.
Adapt your message to the communication channel. If the crisis is serious, you should consider closing all your social platforms and only communicate with an official holding statement through a press conference or by email. In case of a minor incident, you can craft a more light-hearted response that can be posted through your social media platforms.
Show that you have everything under control. Immediately communicate that you and your team are already working on an action plan and start implementing it. People need to see that you take things seriously and can resolve the crisis.
8. Monitoring during crisis
After sending your official statement, closely monitor every social platform, online and offline media outlets. Observe how the press has received your message and if there is any fake news. In this case, you should take immediate action and talk directly with the journalist involved to avoid spreading the fake news even further.
Take note of every important comment or post related to your crisis, and if you notice a lot of confusion or questions from the public, try and respond to each one of them. You can make another official statement to clarify the situation. People should not be left with unanswered questions. When there is no answer, they make it for themselves.
Your goal is to monitor and stop any untrue news or rumours. You are in control and any new facts should come only from official sources, directly from your organization.
After the crisis
9. Post-crisis analysis
The crisis has ended for now, but what have you learned from this experience? Maybe that the saying “it can’t happen to us” is far from the truth.
Gather the crisis communication team and analyze the flow of events. Establish if the workflow was efficient or if it could be improved. Get feedback from external parts to evaluate your response. Start a follow-up plan to monitor the repercussions.
The key to successfully handling crisis communication is preparation. If you have established a trained crisis team and a few statement templates, the crisis will seem so much more manageable.
In the current state of events, no company is ever safe from a potential crisis. Surely, every company should prepare a crisis communication plan, but if you need experienced specialists to properly handle a crisis, contact us at email@example.com.