No one wants to deal with a public affairs crisis. However, when it (inevitably) occurs, it’s important to be prepared to manage the situation both internally and externally to preserve your organization’s reputation.
So what are the critical components of crisis communications and management?
Before the crisis:
- Recognize potential threats. Proactive issue identification and early engagement are key to knowing where and when the next crisis might occur. Alignment with business priorities, potential financial implications, company position and actions, competitor, peer and ally positions, appropriate contacts, issue status and policy short- and long-term outlook are all critical items to monitor when tracking an issue.
- Know your stakeholders. Stakeholder and issue cross-mapping is useful for determining which issues are most important to both internal and external stakeholders. Depending on the crisis, you have to be prepared to quickly communicate with clients, local media, employees, shareholders and investors, government officials and the general public.
- Establish a crisis response team. Your crisis communications team can be made up of various internal players, including, but not limited to heads of various business units, legal staff, executive leadership or communications experts. Establish a clear chain of command to ensure all team members know their roles in the process, including who is responsible for monitoring threats, convening the crisis team, collecting facts, assigning response actions, coordinating messages, and updating senior leadership.
After the crisis:
- Be quick. A timely, confident response can salvage — and even enhance — your organization’s reputation during a time of crisis. Consider which media and communication channels your primary audience uses, and decide which will be most effective in helping you avoid rumors, speculation and misinformation. Even a general, yet clear and cohesive, message that shows you are aware of the developing situation can be enough to show you are engaged, concerned and responsible for your company’s role in the crisis.
- Be sincere. Apologizing authentically, showing remorse and taking responsibility are essential components to regaining public confidence in your organization. Use facts to outline the problem and set the company’s position, offer a genuine apology and prepare for tough questions from effected stakeholders.
- Avoid common mistakes. Don’t ignore signs of trouble, refuse to accept the blame or wait too long to respond. Silence can often be interpreted as lack of accountability, and will only drive speculation and rumors.
- Assess performance. To ensure continuous improvement for your organization’s crisis communications process, ask yourself the following questions when evaluating your response:
- How and when did you first become aware of the crisis?
- How quickly was the crisis team notified?
- Who were your advocates and who were your adversaries?
- How well did you communicate during the crisis?
- How consistent was your messaging?
- What changed for your organization, internally and externally, as a result of the crisis?
If you know the appropriate steps to take before, during and after a crisis, you’re most of the way toward crafting a calm, confident and effective crisis communication message.