Dealing with a crisis is a nightmare for anyone, and for good reason. Stakes are high simply because a crisis can put an organization’s reputation—and even its survival—on the line. Crisis situations are also highly unpredictable, making it a challenging task to develop a communications strategy that works in all scenarios. Despite the challenges and stress that crisis communications can present, it remains an essential component of a successful and comprehensive PR strategy. So how can something so unpredictable become predictable?
As a starting point, every company can identify the top issues that may arise at any given time. By identifying potential crises before they occur and devising strategies and tactics in advance, PR professionals set themselves up to be much better equipped to handle unexpected situations and minimize damage wherever possible. With that in mind, here are five best practices that can be implemented into a crisis communications plan.
1. Be timely.
In the past, PR professionals had the luxury of hours to craft a response to a crisis. However, in today’s fast-paced digital age, minutes matter. A delayed response can create a vacuum, giving rise to speculation and rumors that may undermine the organization’s reputation and credibility. Such a situation can also erode stakeholder trust and confidence, resulting in the loss of customers, clients and investors.
To avoid this, developing communications templates for the most-likely scenarios will save time and provide structure when it’s needed the most.
2. Get the facts straight.
Remember, the key to managing a crisis isn’t getting information out instantaneously, it’s getting it out accurately. It’s okay to say: “We don’t know yet; we’re working on it now. We’ll get the information to you as soon as we have confirmed details.”
Although time is of the essence, PR pros must be able to monitor coverage carefully, quickly sort through information, and discern what is relevant and important to communicate to stakeholders. In a crisis, there may be a lot of information to process and manage, which can be overwhelming. Less experienced professionals may feel compelled to respond too quickly in an attempt to “take control of the narrative,” but such impulsiveness can do more harm than good.
Tip: Make sure narratives for responding—even if no specific information is available—are ready to go and available. These may include the “we’re still investigating” narrative that will allow you to answer but correctly state that accurate information is not yet available.
3. Decide on the right communication channels.
Depending on the audience and the nature of your business, communication channels can be everything from a corporate blog and a press release to an e-blast and a social media outreach. Depending on the company, digital channels will likely be a core component of your outreach because of their immediacy and potential for reach. No matter the medium, it’s important to ensure that all messaging and communications are aligned and consistent across the board.
Tip: For widespread communications, consider creating a company website that can remain on standby should the company need it in the future. This allows for an “instant on” digital communications tool that—once customized for the incident—can provide an excellent source of accurate and timely information ready to go no matter what the crisis is.
4. Craft thoughtful and authentic messaging.
Respect your audiences with targeted, transparent and truthful messaging. Remember, pay attention to the tone of voice in your messaging, remaining empathetic and reassuring, while still being professional and maintaining the integrity of the organization’s brand. Avoid being defensive or dismissive and acknowledge the impact of the crisis on all stakeholders.
Tip: Many of these messaging statements can be crafted in advance and put on standby should something happen. Again, these can be customized for the situation at hand, yet prepared in advance so the team is “go-ready.”
5. Don’t forget your post-crisis strategy.
Once the crisis is over and you’re looking in the rear-view mirror, remember that just because it’s done doesn’t mean it’s over. A post-crisis PR strategy is critical in helping organizations recover from a crisis, rebuild trust with stakeholders, and demonstrate a commitment to addressing the issues at hand. By communicating effectively and taking concrete steps to prevent similar incidents from happening in the future, organizations can emerge from a crisis stronger, more resilient and more respected.
Effective crisis communication is crucial for any organization that values its reputation and credibility. While crises can be unpredictable and challenging to manage, a crisis communication plan can provide a road map for handling the situation and mitigating its impact. Whether it’s being timely, getting the facts straight, deciding on communication channels, crafting thoughtful and authentic messaging, or developing a post-crisis strategy, these practices are essential for any crisis communication plan. By staying prepared and adopting a proactive approach to crisis management, organizations can emerge stronger and more resilient from even the most challenging situations.
Leeza L. Hoyt, APR, is the president of The Hoyt Organization, Inc., a public relations firm based in the greater Los Angeles area.
If you’re a business leader wanting to prepare for issues and crises, you might also be interested in our new white paper, which discusses some of the key bad habits in the boardroom and presents solutions for leaders ready to act. You can download your complimentary copy here: https://companycrisis.co.nz/white-paper-2023-bad-habits-in-the-boardroom/