Learn more about Marketing and PR pro, Marie Swift, and Impact Communications, which she founded in 1993, at www.ImpactCommunications.org.
In today’s fast-paced digital world, business leaders need to be ready for media attention and market scrutiny—both good and bad. Bad news can strike quickly, demanding either the same or more attention than good news.
Here are some communications tips to help your organization maintain crisis control:
Identify your crisis communications team.
Successful businesses know a good team is the foundation of success. The first step is to formally identify who will need to be involved and alerted should a crisis hit. This group should not be too large and should represent leaders from the major branches of your organization, as well as your legal and communications teams. These are the people with the expertise and perspective to navigate a crisis. Running a few exercises can help you work out the kinks when it comes to organization and expectation setting. (This also applies to media training.)
Identifying your crisis communications team crucially cuts down your response time and provides your company with:
• Experts who can identify when you are “in crisis.”
• An influential group actively looking for and anticipating crises. By officially appointing people to the team, it adds to their professional identity. Now, they will be on the lookout for potential crises.
• Built-in accountability—before, during and after. This group will be on the front lines for improving processes and following up with your internal and external stakeholders as the crisis unfolds.
Develop preapproved holding statements.
When a crisis hits, you will have a lot of things demanding your attention. Communicating swiftly and effectively can do wonders for mitigating an active or potential crisis. Here is where holding statements come into play.
A holding statement is a short message that organizations communicate to internal stakeholders, the public and the media within the first hour or so of a crisis. The goal is not to immediately solve or explain the problem at hand. Instead, a holding statement helps you control the narrative of the situation while you and your team get a grasp on the scope of the crisis. Having a broad selection of holding statements gives you examples from which to work. When it comes to developing holding statements:
• Acknowledge crises with transparency. Be honest and say what you know has happened. For example: “We have been made aware of a data security breach on our platform.” Do consult with your legal and PR teams to ensure you aren’t creating any liabilities. Do not include anything unconfirmed, uncertain or involving speculation, or unsubstantiated rumors.
• Start with empathy and keep the victims in mind. All communication coming from the organization should, without assigning blame, focus on those hurt—or even inconvenienced—by what happened. For example: “We sincerely apologize to those affected by this lapse in security.”
• Remember your values and promise action. People need to know you see this as something important and that you’re working on it. Including your company’s values in the response shows empathy and helps assure people you are taking it seriously. For example: “The privacy of our clients’ data is always our priority. We are working with the authorities to identify what data was lost and identify the cause.”
• Promise and/or point to an update. Let stakeholders know you are in control, what’s coming next and where to find it. For example: “We will be holding a press conference at 2 p.m. via WebEx to address these issues. Subscribers are asked to monitor their emails for additional updates. A hotline for those with questions has been set up.”
Develop your channels of communication.
The work to get a platform for regular communication with your various audiences will serve a critical role if and when a crisis comes knocking. One of the earliest decisions a crisis team has to make is, “Who do we need to tell what, and when?”
Everyone affected by the crisis needs to be given the same information, including your employees. Social media provides a platform to speculate and agitate the rumor mill; it gives journalists an easy way to track down employees and agitators for comment, so be sure to post your holding statements, promises and updates on all appropriate social media accounts.
Ensuring you have reliable ways to contact the media, your clients/consumers and your employees will help to ensure your message gets out quickly and widely. In addition, having a good reputation and solid relationships gives you some credibility and good faith as you work to protect your image and deal with the fallout.
Being an effective communicator takes perspective and planning. I hope these examples and tips are helpful as you reflect back and consider the future.