By Alex Sweeney, Account Director
The value of crisis comms has really come to the forefront in recent years for obvious reasons. But having a crisis comms strategy in place encompasses so much more. Most experienced marketers will have dealt with some form of crisis in the past, however large or small, but it’s worth repeating that a crisis, according to the Institute for Crisis Management is a “Significant business disruption which stimulates extensive media (and social media) coverage. The resulting public scrutiny will affect the organisation’s normal operations and also could have a political, legal, financial and governmental impact on the business.”
Undoubtedly there have been many lessons learned from the pandemic, but moving forward, how do those lessons apply to your overall strategy? Taking a step back, there is a multitude of different disruptions that can happen to a business from cybersecurity hacks to natural disasters, and a good crisis comms plan will have a plan of action in place for as many eventualities as possible. In the event of a crisis, the media want the exclusive and this can have an impact on the accuracy of initial reports. This becomes even more difficult for companies because in the social media world, unsubstantiated rumours can be reported as fact and spread quickly, audiences may believe a company is hiding something if it does not respond immediately to a request for information.
There are many pitfalls in dealing with the media in a crisis and plenty of real-life examples from some of the biggest companies in the world on how not to handle a crisis. First off, you need to reach your target audiences quickly and minimise the spread of misinformation. Regardless of how much you know at the time, it’s important to take action quickly, stick to the facts, don’t speculate on what could have caused the crisis or the extent of it because that is when misinformation can spread. Your spokespeople need to be responsive and offer straightforward and accurate information.
While external communications with the media are important, internal communications should play a big part in your plan as well. Your employees need to know what is happening. By doing this you avoid your employees speculating about what is happening and therefore reduce the spread of misinformation. It can also be very important for morale. If your employees feel that they are being kept in the dark then this will not endear them to the company and you could see people’s loyalty waiver. Therefore, it is important to have a dedicated resource or channel to communicate with employees and respond to their desire for information.
One of the major changes to crisis comms over time is the speed in which you are expected to respond to crises – over 20 years ago information didn’t spread nearly as quickly, so companies would have far more time to gather the information on what has happened and then make a statement. Nowadays in the age of social media and rapid news cycles, companies have to react quickly to these problems. They need to act quickly and state what they know then gather as much information as possible to stay on top on the spread of misinformation. Social media has now become the main source of communicating with their stakeholders, allowing the company to quickly reach a large proportion of their audience.
Although the channels and speed at which you need to communicate your message during a crisis have changed quite drastically – the core principles of crisis communication will stay the same over time:
– Plan for tomorrow
– Respond rapidly
– Work with local authorities
– Position your management front and centre
– What you say must reflect what you do
– Be open and honest
– Demonstrate concern and convey integrity
– Speak with one voice
– Talk to stakeholders directly
If the future of crisis communications follows in the same path that it has taken so far then it is imperative for companies to have a comprehensive plan that allows them to adapt, change and communicate effectively in the event of any crisis. Companies are being held to account of their actions now more than ever and they are given less time to explain themselves – but if you stick to the core principles then it could be the difference between success and failure.
A crisis doesn’t mean the end for a company, it is how they deal with that crisis that determines their outcome.