Crisis Communications 101
“Our organization faced the sudden and unexpected loss of a key staff person. As an organization with a high profile in the community we knew we had to let staff, clients and the public know that we were able to manage the situation. Aleece provided clear, insightful and decisive advice, worked with us to craft a concise message, and managed our contact with the media. She was available any time we needed her and thought of all the angles that needed to be addressed.” – Louise Richards, Board Chair, A Way Home Kamloops
When COVID-19 first shut down or drastically changed how organizations operated, leaders had to quickly turn their forward-thinking communications and planning to short-term, moment by moment communications and planning. Question: if you could have had a step-by-step strategy to guide your communications at the start of the pandemic, would that have made things easier? I am certain you would say YES! But how many organizations now, almost one year later, are prepared for the next crisis?
The adage of “a stitch in time saves nine” applies here, meaning that what you can take care of in the present saves you a bigger problem in the future. The same is true with a crisis communications strategy. I am an optimist, but I have had enough experience to understand there is an inevitability that a crisis will occur for your organization – it is not a matter of what, but when. Taking a few small steps today to build a strategy will help you more proactively and calmly communicate when a crisis comes along.
How our Brain Deals with a Crisis
Renowned psychologist Dr. Henry Cloud shares how our brains create maps of how life works. Throw in something out of the ordinary, and our brains will go into ERROR mode until they can sort things out and we can bring a situation back to normal. In a crisis where things don’t go back to normal quickly, our brain continues to function in ERROR mode and our ability to think rationally and make good decisions is hampered by this error message. It’s like this: if you’ve ever been on the scene of a car accident, those who have no training or a strategy to deal with a crisis situation are many times rendered helpless when what they should do is 1) assess the situation, 2) call 911, and 3) start caring for injured people however they can. This is why I find first responders arriving at the scene of an accident a little frustrating because they will typically walk, not run, onto the scene. Their training though teaches them to remain calm, mentally assess any danger and where their help will be best focused. Running in makes it harder for them to operate at peak effectiveness, and adds undue stress to a crisis situation.
The same calm confidence is possible for leaders in the midst of a crisis and the imperative communications they will need to deliver. But it takes a bit of planning and strategy.
When you have a strategy, without sounding too cold, the roll out of your crisis communications is just another communications event you’ll lead through. For me, it’s not that I don’t feel the weight of the situation – I do and need to unwind after things are under control – but I go into calm and confident crisis mode because I have a plan, tactically walking through very specifically designed steps to help an organization communicate well until they’re on the other side of a crisis.
Here are a few scenarios our team has led or assisted with:
The death of an organization’s leader.
The death of a contractor on a job site.
A violent incident on company property.
A tech crisis where customer information was compromised.
Other examples include: a leak about private company information, an organization’s stand on a controversial issue, or even the perception of a wrongful dismissal.
Having a crisis communications strategy does a few things:
Preserves trust with media and internal and external stakeholders.
Prevents extensive and ongoing media scrutiny.
Mitigates and minimizes negative media coverage.
Effectively channels all media requests and interviews to a spokesperson who will evaluate each crisis on a case-by-case basis and deliver the best response.
If you don’t have a crisis communications strategy in place, consider how hard it was to develop a game plan on the fly when COVID-19 first shut everything down or if you’ve experienced a crisis in the past. Now consider if you would have had a plan like Kamloops Alliance Church:
“Aleece and the Amplify team helped create a crisis communication strategy that helped our organization navigate the COVID-19 pandemic with intentionality and clarity. Because of their work, we were able to have a clear plan of action when the crisis happened. This enabled us to communicate relevant facts, trends and information that helped the over one thousand people that call our church home. Without Aleece and her team, it is scary to think where we would have ended up. I can’t recommend Aleece and her team enough.” – Chris Throness, Lead Pastor, Kamloops Alliance Church
Our team has developed award winning Crisis Communication Strategies for leaders and organizations who understand that having a crisis communications strategy protects their reputation and communicates confidence to their teams and those they serve. Connect with us to learn the simple next steps. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to set up a meeting. Once your strategy is built, we will help guide you through how to implement the plan easily and effectively when the time comes. We’d rather talk to you before a crisis happens, than when one arrives on your doorstep and you need to call in a panic.