Even if your company plays by the books and plays it safe, a reputation-destroying crisis could still come your way. All it takes is one small misstep, and now you have something that can risk your business. Chances are, something like this won’t happen, but if it does, are you confident that you could handle it?
Like any other tenacious business risk, a possible PR crisis should be tackled with sufficient preparation and forethought. Responsible leadership and strategy should include crisis prevention, preparation and a calm, direct approach to communication in the event that a public relations disaster must be weathered.
There’s a Crisis, What Do you Do?
Based on common-sense principles, crisis communication hopes to minimize risk. It’s important to highlight a series of action items that consider the person, the organization, and society carefully. In times of crisis, key actions include:
1. Tackle perceptions. The seriousness of a crisis is directly about the public’s perception of it, rather than to what has happened on the ground.
2. Listen to the people who are complaining. It’s imperative to try to comprehend what is making people angry. Anger obstructs communication, and the person you are addressing will not listen to your message until they have had their say.
3. Tune in emotionally. You need to understand how to interpret the public’s temperament. Communication should not be treated as a faceless means for spreading ideas.
4. Reason from the point of view of those you represent. Make it crystal clear that the company is supporting the interests of the people it serves.
5. Distinguish between public opinion and law. You may be in the right, and yet be wrong. It’s best to have both legal advisers and communications experts on hand.
6. Be honest. Honesty is fundamental to credibility. In times of crisis, one of the worst things you can do is not tell the truth.
7. Take responsibility for your actions. That could mean fixing the issue, acknowledging the mistake or mistakes that were made and repairing whatever damage has been caused.
8. Be professional. Crisis communication officers must have a service-minded approach. They need technical skills and the capability to express clear, inoffensive, and unequivocal messages.
What Happens Next?
Each action plan should be analyzed and measured afterward. Even while the communications plan is still being executed, it’s necessary to analyze the press and social media landscape and monitor how well the plan is working. There are lots of tools out there too help e.g. BuzzSumo does a great job of identifying top posts related to a topic. Once the crisis has passed, an overall assessment should be carried out, and a plan for the post-crisis phase needs to be agreed.
Accounts of the crisis and analyses of them are highly valuable for the future. But for such learning to be useful, internal improvements need to be developed and implemented.
Crises pose grave threats to an organization’s relationships with its public. Strong ties are key to the company’s durability: the stronger the ties, the more likely a company is to weather the storm. Effective communication plays a necessary role in making those links as strong as they can be.
This Pub Chat post is adapted from an article published here.
Image credit: bigstockphoto.com.
J. Fitzgerald Group is a full-service traditional and digital marketing communications firm based in suburban Buffalo, N.Y.