Crisis Communication – Who, What, When

Life would be so much simpler if incidents, emergencies, and crises arrived with adequate warning. You could let everyone know in advance, avoid all unnecessary surprises, and sit back and let everything continue as normal.

But unfortunately, this isn't the case. Crises are unpredictable. They crop up when you least expect it. If they're ineffectively managed, they can drag out and severely damage your company's reputation.

This is where crisis communication comes in. Crisis communication is all about planning, people, and technology working in tandem to enable your organisation to communicate effectively during a crisis. When it's planned out, well-executed, and properly maintained, it can be one of the most important parts of any crisis management plan and an invaluable tool in mitigating further harm to your company. 

3 Keys to Effective Crisis Communication

When it comes to crisis communication, you have three main things to consider.

Firstly, you need to decide who to involve in the planning of your communication strategy and who'll be responsible for sharing important messages, updates, and details as soon as they become available. Secondly, you have to be mindful of what systems you have in place and what your plan of action is going to be if a crisis occurs. Lastly, it's important to be aware of when to act and what to prioritise before, during, and after a crisis. 

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The 'Who'

Selecting your crisis communication team 

Your crisis management team is tasked with handling communication, damage assessment, press engagement, and leadership during a crisis. You should make sure they're aware of their roles and responsibility in advance of a crisis, so it's preferable to get them organised and trained as soon as possible. 

The team should consist of people from a range of different departments. This might include employees from HR, marketing, legal, or any other relevant area. They should be trusted by upper management and have the combined experience, industry knowledge, and training to effectively tackle any situation. 

Their first task should be to assign an official spokesperson to handle all direct communications with the press. This is essential to maintain a clear, consistent message across all media interactions, so keep it a priority.

Keep staff in-the-loop

Employees deserve to be kept informed during a crisis, so make sure you share accurate information with them as soon as possible. This not only promotes a culture of transparency across your organisation but also minimises the spread of misinformation.

Give your staff an idea of the risks involved, the potential impact on the company, and the commanding direction you want to take going forward. 

Also, remember to keep next-of-kin informed and updated on any potential details that may affect someone they care about. Whether that's a friend, family member, or colleague, make sure they're kept aware of the situation and updated if anything changes.

Social Media

It's important to utilise social media during a crisis, but sparingly. When used correctly, social media lets you communicate with the public quickly and effectively. On the other hand, it can be your own worst enemy. A few bad interactions can contribute to the spread of false information, causing the crisis to escalate. 

Identify your key messages clearly from the start and don't deviate. It's also worth setting out guidelines to follow. This will determine how much interaction with the public is necessary, when to reply to questions and queries, and when to remain silent.

Finally, make sure your staff know what's acceptable to post on their profiles and what isn't. This will ensure no-one gets trigger happy with details before their official release.

The 'What'

Establish Your notification and monitoring systems 

What's your process for recording media enquiries, notifying stakeholders, and monitoring the progress of your crisis response? Do you use crisis communication software, or rely on other means? With effective software, you can monitor and log all interactions with the media in real-time. You'll also be able to send mass-communications and track engagement with recipients. 

Whatever systems you use, make sure they're functional. There's nothing worse than delaying your responses because of easily-avoidable technical issues. 

Holding statements & Press Releases

Are pre-approved holding statements and press releases part of your crisis communication plan for media enquiries? If not, maybe consider creating a few to directly address certain situations. 

Having templates can be a great time-saver and allow you to plan ahead. With the right crisis management system, you can create templates based on preliminary documentation that's already on hand. These can include initial statements, updates, and detailed press responses. 

The 'When'

Before a Crisis

As mentioned above, you need to assign you communications team way ahead of a crisis to make sure all relevant systems are operational. It's also a great opportunity to assess the risk factors for any potential crises and plan accordingly.

Once this is calculated, you can plan for individual situations and train your team to react to different circumstances as and when they arise.

Don't get complacent. Run refresher training at regular intervals – there's no such thing as being too prepared.

During A Crisis

As soon as a crisis occurs you want to get the jump on the story and solidify your version of the events, so get ready to respond straight away. This is key in building trust in your organisation at a critical time, so be sure to be open in your communications and share as much relevant information as you can. You don't want an excluded fact or leaked account to come back and bite you further down the line. 

You'll also need to make sure your team can mobilise swiftly, so try and collect information on the crisis as quickly as possible, so they're prepared to make prompt decisions. 

After A Crisis

Post-crisis, finalise and adapt your key messages across all communication channels and keep monitoring any responses from the press and activity on social media. Stay vigilant and aim to actively correct any inaccuracies in reporting or false information that may still be spreading. You won't need to do this forever but it's good to maintain the practice for as long as necessary, until the situation dies down. 

It's also an apt time to evaluate what went well during the crisis and what could have been improved. Your findings can then be used to enhance your crisis communication and management going forward. 

Stay Vigilant

Ultimately, your crisis communication should be proactive and not just reactive. Being aware of the who, what, and when at all times is the first step in managing a crisis. With the right technology at your disposal, you can ensure you're well-prepared to deal with any situation that emerges. 

 

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By Andrew Carvell

Andy is the Managing Director of One Voice’s international business, based in London and has worked with incident and crisis management solutions since 2010. He has a particular focus on the aviation and energy sectors and works closely with One Voice’s partner Control Risks to broaden the service offering of both parties. Andy has a degree in law from the University of Nottingham and outside of work, enjoys rugby, golf and outdoor pursuits.

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