Whether a large global manufacturer or a small tech startup, most businesses will experience a crisis in one form or another, at some time. How a business and its leaders react in the face of these rare yet profound events can influence its reputation among customers and the general public, as well as impact its bottom line.
How is crisis defined?
According to the Institute for Public Relations, “a crisis is defined here as a significant threat to operations that can have negative consequences if not handled properly. A crisis can create three related threats: 1) public safety, 2) financial loss, and 3) reputation loss.”
A crisis is a live event which can include hazard or harm to people like a fire or injury at a manufacturing facility; accidental death of an employee at work; natural disaster that impacts business; or sexual or physical assault. It can also include such events as employee strikes; financial malfeasance of a senior executive; accusations of bias, discrimination, or harassment; product defects or recalls; and countless other scenarios.
What is crisis communication?
Crisis communication involves all of the internal and external appearances, speeches, and written words necessary to address and alleviate a crisis. In essence, it’s the opposite of most external corporate and public relations communication—instead of trying to attract positive attention for your company or organization, you’re attempting to mitigate the negative impact of potentially harmful or damaging events and information.
Why develop a crisis communications plan?
Your team and your customers may feel unsettled by news of a crisis, but getting out in front of the problem gives you the opportunity to reassure them that you’re aware of it and doing all you can to solve it. Taking effective action in that difficult moment will help lessen the negative effects on people and the business.
Here are some steps to take to be prepared for the unlikely event of a crisis:
· Assume your business will experience a crisis.
Forewarned is forearmed. Spend time thinking about potential crises that could impact your business and the various audiences you will be communicating with throughout the crisis. Consider your leadership team, employees, customers or clients, business partners, the media, local government, and even law enforcement as potential recipients of your message.
· Form your crisis team.
These are the senior-level people in your organization who will manage the crisis, the communications team that will craft the responses, and the spokespeople who will deliver those responses. In smaller organizations, these may all be the same people. But in complex organizations, there are often different teams whose response depends on the kind of crisis at hand. To avoid missteps, it’s a good idea to invest in training your spokespeople to convey the appropriate information in a calm and convincing manner.
· Develop your crisis communications plan.
This is a reference document that identifies the kinds of crises that could potentially impact your business, who should respond, and how that person or team should respond. This includes interaction with the media and outside stakeholders, communicating via the company website and social media channels, and talking face-to-face with other members of your management team and your employees.
· React quickly and honestly.
When it comes to crisis communications, time is of the essence. You don’t have to know all the facts to be able to respond to a live crisis. But once you do know all the facts, follow-up with detailed information.
· Put people first.
Articulating your response quickly and clearly is vital, but so is imbuing your response with empathy. Under no circumstance should you blame the victim—it’s neither a compassionate nor an effective strategy.
While avoiding a crisis scenario with proactive management should be your ideal, circumstances outside of your control may one day necessitate crisis communications. Prepare yourself and your team ahead of time, and you’re much more likely to meet a crisis with confidence and competence.