Stephen Covey was right when he said, “If you don’t choose to do it in leadership up front, you do it in crisis management time down the road.” Organizational leaders do their level best to do the proactive and upstream work to ensure their organization or business runs well, their team are well looked after, and the services/products they sell or promote deliver consistently. But there’s a missing piece! It’s a Crisis Communications strategy. I can tell you that through my years of working in communications, the vast majority of organizations don’t have a strategy so when a crisis emerges, oftentimes we’re building a strategy to communicate well right in the midst of crisis. It’s not a good place to be and it’s relatively simple to solve.
Crisis communications is simply the process of communicating with your stakeholders – those who impact, or have an impact on, your organization - during a crisis. These are customers, employees, shareholders, the media, and the public. An effective crisis communication strategy when implemented well helps an organization control the message or narrative and mitigate the damage caused by the crisis.
When a crisis hits, the first thing to do is assess the situation – what happened, when, why, and who is it impacting. Gather as much information as possible and once you have a clear understanding of the situation, roll out your crisis communication game plan.
Here are the key elements anyone can write down in a document to share with your staff team:
Who is our crisis management team? Having a team of leadership and someone with communications experience is critical as this team will be responsible for managing the crisis and communicating with stakeholders. If you don’t have an in-house legal department, involve your organization’s lawyer as they’ll bring good advice to what you can and cannot communicate.
What are our communication channels? What are the ways you can reach stakeholders. For your staff and those internal to operations, perhaps this is email, town hall meeting, or phone call. For external stakeholders, these channels can include social media, email, video message, or in-person communications.
What is our message? Develop a message that is consistent, transparent, and factual. There is no room for assumptions or best guesses - the message should address the crisis and its impact on stakeholders, as well as the steps the organization is taking to mitigate the situation. Only share what you know. If you’re still waiting for information, give people a time when you’ll provide the next update.
Who is our organization’s spokesperson? In a crisis, only the spokesperson should address stakeholders and the media, and they should be trained in crisis communications and have experience working with the media.
Are we providing updated training? We suggest updating your crisis communications strategy annually and sharing it annually with your team as a refresher as well as something likely new to those who may be new to your organization. Employees should know who to contact in case of a crisis and what information to share with stakeholders.
You can work hard to prevent a crisis, but when one does arise, a crisis communications strategy that is well executed will help your organization control the narrative, mitigate damage, and protect your reputation.