Given how much the term is casually thrown around, a crisis can fall within an enormous range of possibilities, from a minor anxiety attack going on in someone’s brain to a global pandemic.
But in our world, a situation is deemed a communications crisis when it generates sufficient media or public attention to potentially impact a business’s operations.
Whatever the crisis is, there are ways to help stop the bleeding.
Collaborating with your team and partners to develop a comprehensive crisis strategy is like buying insurance. It may not be fun and it may make you worried about various worst-case scenarios, but without it, you may end up left in a hole you can’t climb out of.
Obviously, the specifics of your comprehensive crisis plan will vary depending on your industry, but there are a few scenarios that should warrant advance consideration for any business:
- A damning story in the media exposes your business and/or its executives for allegedly unethical, corrupt or illegal business practices.
- Your business’ network is breached or hacked, potentially exposing private data.
- An executive or employee is accused of misconduct.
- One of your workers is killed or badly injured on the job, whether it be out in the field, in a warehouse or in a retail location.
- One of your products must be recalled due to safety concerns.
- A new federal or state law will force you to change the way you do business – potentially upsetting customers or stakeholders.
- A natural disaster shutting down parts of your business or service.
While the above component—simply recognizing possible scenarios—is important, a crisis plan consists of much more than just making note of them. It’s not possible to precisely predict crises, but for each of the above outlined situations, there is plenty of advance work you can do.
Once that crisis strikes…then what? Well, the whole point of this exercise is that there should be no confusion as to what steps come next.
There should be some sort of organizational chart indicating who on your team is tasked with what following each type of crisis, and who needs to sign off on any initial actions or statements. There should be a clear flow of reporting and communications with roles and responsibilities depending on the crisis – otherwise there could be chaos or executives stepping on each other’s toes during moments when tensions are frayed, and things are moving quickly.
Internal and external communications are also crucial. Whatever the size of your company, employees and stakeholders need to be kept in the loop in a transparent and timely manner, showing that their interests and livelihoods continue to be of paramount importance.
One of the worst things a company can do when the public catches wind of a crisis or problem is to hide out, or even be perceived as hiding out. The threads that should be present within any sort of external statement is that you are fully aware of the issue, you are doing everything in your power to look into it further and make it right, and that you will provide further updates as needed.
Following that initial holding statement, there will need to be more thorough messaging mapped out to guide the next step of the response, which often includes an interview to address the crisis. This is where you will need to work with your PR/communications team (or a hired crisis PR firm) in real-time to work out exactly how to address the specifics of the situation.
We help our clients walk through many of these scenarios in advance and provide them with the tools and materials needed to get it right, whatever “it” ends up being. There are plenty of other tools and actions that will be needed, from photography to social media monitoring, and the face of a crisis can turn in the blink of an eye. So whether it’s a third-party agency or your internal employees, your team must be prepared for needs and priorities to shift – especially if it’s a crisis that involves a worsening situation or a slow drip of information being made public.
Whether you have a PR/communications firm or handle everything internally, the last thing you want slowing you down during a crisis is logistics and workflow – so take some time when things are slow to look ahead to uncertain (and often unappealing) futures.
Ready to put your plan in place? Tell us how we can help.