Crisis Communications: No substitute for preparation
Bad things happen to good people. Bad things also happen to good companies, to well-run companies, and to companies that are less than efficient. To be ready for the bad things, your company must have a strong crisis communications policy.
Without a good crisis communications policy, you and your company can face disastrous fallout when things go wrong: problems with daily operations, investor relations, customer loyalty, and profitability. So if your company or organization doesn’t have a crisis communications policy, it needs to be at the top of your to-do list.
Begin by setting goals for the policy—what is the policy supposed to accomplish? Basic goals should include things like ensuring that your company is responsive in a crisis. And ensuring that your company is truthful—even when it can be awkward, unpleasant, or any of those other things people try to avoid.
Next, set your priorities for communication during a crisis. Some basics: your communications should be part of resolving the problem, not a rug that you sweep everything under. Next, communication to all your audiences has to express concern—genuine concern—for those affected by the crisis. Maintaining trust with your constituencies is also paramount, as is keeping key audiences informed. Good, clear information goes a long way toward reducing the negative social media that always accompanies a crisis, even if your crisis doesn’t make it to the headlines or the 5 o’clock news.
To deal with a crisis, you need an established spokesperson. This shouldn’t be a decision made in an emergency, but something that key management thinks about and agrees to—and your spokesperson needs to know ahead of time that he or she will be responsible when a crisis happens. Your spokesperson has to be readily available to the media—and today that also means proactively posting on social media. But all of that posting has to be controlled and monitored—so employees need to understand the chain of command for crisis communications and not decide to take the situation into their own hands.
It’s not hard to think of companies that handled a crisis well—and those that failed miserably. The recent “NBC/Brian Williams/What enemy fire?” debacle will be an interesting situation to watch as it continues to unfold during his suspension. It’s also a great example of something NBC probably never worried about (“what will we do if the face of our brand gets caught in a lie?”)
So get ready, write it down, distribute it, practice it—and then hope that you never have to use it!
by Sara Rider