How to communicate in a crisisApr 29, 2021
It happens to the best of us, and often without us knowing it’s coming. Communicating effectively in a crisis can be the one thing that saves your brand or business reputation. We all know what the opposite can do, and so often the idea of ‘saying nothing’ and hoping it goes away is the answer for the untrained PR team, CEO or spokesperson.
There is nowhere to hide anymore, media wise, so we’ll ignore that ‘tactic’ from the offset – but it’s not just about how we react publicly in a crisis situation with our communications, but also, what is it we can do to prepare ourselves so that there is a practiced plan in place for when, or indeed if it happens to you or your team?
Journalists are looking for a story, for the news. Sound bites and quotes are their bread and butter and you need to ensure that yours are considered and on point. Just the idea of managing this in a crisis or negative news scenario can be daunting. Media training for communicating effectively in a crisis is paramount for organisations and individuals who may find themselves in this scenario. In fact, at TCW we believe it’s brutally unfair to place anyone untrained in front of the media in times of crisis.
Crisis, perceived or real, can present itself upon us without warning, or as we see more frequently, as an escalation of something else that slowly burns into a situation that we can no longer ignore.
Crisis management can make or break brands and businesses. Whether slow burning or explosive, we need to know how to be ready for both. We’ve all seen PR ‘disasters’ in the media, and those who do not recover well from them lose both market share (therefore money) and people’s trust. Those who recover with agility, and therefore well, see an increase in trust and loyalty and share prices often rise. What differentiates one from the other is their communication styles when reacting to their negative media coverage.
We can’t predict everything, but can get organised to identify the highest risks, allocate roles in advance and be prepared with training, rehearsals and simulations to react with the ‘three R’s’
Whether something is brewing or a critical incident has occurred, we need to speak to our stakeholders – those we are accountable to, to ‘recognise’ that there is a problem or potential threat. Stakeholders determine a reputation, not the organisation itself. Once we have recognised that there is a problem, it’s time to talk – if you or your organisation doesn’t talk – others will regardless, and this is likely to be critical. With recognition and considered preparation you can navigate the conversations on your own terms.
You must show that you care. This isn’t about taking legal risks with apologies and responsibility for blame, but we must act swiftly, and recognition of regret, with compassion and empathy for anything or anyone affected must be communicated. Taking ownership of the situation with pace means that the story narrative is in your control, without over-reassurance (we said it was a minefield).
What are the answers? How will your organisation manage the resolution of this issue or incident? What steps will be taken, and when? The objective is not to soothe, but to convey accurate, calm concern. Emphasise that a process is in place to learn from the situation, and be prepared for the ‘What if’ questions.
Managing crisis communications in the media, and indeed online, is a situation where solid counsel is essential. The Communications Works offers training and coaching with journalists and PR professionals with global, top-tier experience. Preparation is crucial to a successful outcome for your brand or organisation, and we can help.
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