The bad news: a crisis can hit any organization at any time. The good news: the right crisis communications approach will limit the damage to your reputation to the absolute minimum. And if you handle it really well, you can even improve your image – no, that’s not just a myth!
But how do you do good crisis communications? First and foremost, it depends on the type of crisis and the nature of your organization. Figuring that out, takes expertise to begin with. But still, a number of universal laws applies to every crisis. And if you use them when the lightning strikes, you may be able to silence the thunder.
Time is scarce during a crisis: the later you start communicating, the less grip you will have on the situation. Fortunately, there are many things you can do in advance. Start by preparing the most likely and impactful scenarios, including a ‘stakeholder mapping’ and statements, so you immediately know what to say to whom. If you practice those scenarios, you’ll be firmly in the driver’s seat when needed. A specialized PR agency can be of great help with all this, so make sure you have them on speed dial.
Carefully consider in advance which crisis team will manage a situation and who will talk to the media. Ideally, the latter should be media trained. Organizations that don’t have a suitable spokesperson often outsource that role to their PR agency. And that’s fine.
Has your organization failed in a core duty? Or are you the victim of a personal blunder by an employee or an external party? The cause largely determines your communication strategy. And without the right strategy, you can’t convey the appropriate messages.
Even if you are not to blame, some stakeholders are experiencing serious damage – otherwise you wouldn’t be calling it a crisis. So radiating understanding and compassion in everything you put out there is key.
Even if you’ve made a monumental mistake, never bury your head in the sand. This might sound pretty obvious, but trust us: avoiding blame is very tempting. And don’t be afraid to say sorry if you have to.
Transparency doesn’t mean making statements about things you don’t have enough information about. But don’t be invisible either. By means of a first ‘holding statement’, indicate that you are gathering information and will communicate proactively as soon as you can. And even when journalists insist, simply refer them to the statement.
Your employees are your most important stakeholders. They should always be the first to be informed, even if the crisis doesn’t impact them directly. Also, brief them as clearly as possible on what they should and shouldn’t do or say in case of external questions. You can read more tips on internal communication in times of crisis in this blog.
Of course, we sincerely hope that your organization never has to go into crisis communication mode – we didn’t mould this blog into a ‘lucky number seven’ format for no reason. 😉 But if it does happen, or if you want to prepare in advance, we are here for you. Our team of experienced specialists will assist you in all aspects, from strategy and copywriting to media relations and even training.
– Karolien Hessels, Managing Director LVTPR Belgium and specialist crisis communications