Recent events have demonstrated that the worst can and will happen. Whether or not your organization survives depends on how you handle each stage of the crisis. While major corporations may make national headlines with their public relations news, crisis communications is equally essential for small organizations and their PR—perhaps even more so due to the smaller margins involved.
You need a crisis communications plan. Whether you’re looking for a PR agency to help you navigate a current situation or (wisely) planning for the future, there are five things to know about crisis communications.
1. Reputation is everything, and everything is reputation
Weber Shandwick and KRC Research released a major study in 2020 with the apt subtitle “Everything Matters Now.” It delivered two key findings:
- According to global executives, company reputation is responsible for, on average, 63 percent of the company’s market value. For some corporations, that number is still higher.
- Reputation is “omnidriven.” Instead of focusing on a few key markers of reputation, companies must contend with many factors and address themselves in multiple directions.
Corporate crises are more various and more devastating than ever before. Companies that neglect this aspect of public relations risk their own peril.
When it comes to reputation management, transparency is key. Implement a strategy that is proactive and truthful. Take responsibility for your mistakes and be thoughtful in your declarations of success.
2. There are three stages of crisis communications
Catastrophes never happen in a vacuum. Pre-existing conditions create the vulnerabilities that crises exploit, and the effects of these crises linger, rippling out from the initial event.
The three stages of crisis communications include:
- Pre-crisis: prevention and preparation
- Crisis: response
- Post-crisis: recovery and follow-up
Each stage should build on the one that preceded it. Management’s response should follow a previously developed plan. Once in recovery, the company must fulfill promises and obligations assumed during the crisis itself.
3. You are in stage one right now
This is true even if you’re in the midst of reaching out to PR agencies because a crisis has already hit. Catastrophes don’t stop time. As you’re handling one emergency, you must plan for the next.
You need a crisis communications plan today, well, yesterday. Ask yourselves: where are we weak, and how can we leverage our strengths when weaknesses are exploited? To create a crisis communications plan, you should:
- Identify any and all potential crises and the impact they would have on the organization and/or your customers, the community, clients, etc.
- Develop templated media statements, FAQs and a plan for all identified crises.
- Consider the best courses of action to address and resolve each potential crisis, and the best people to perform those actions.
- Consider internal communication and action plans for each potential crisis.
- Train anyone who will be involved in media outreach and response.
- Review and revise on a regular basis.
Some of your vulnerabilities will be relatively concrete: problems with supply, occasional defects in service or product quality, environmental factors, unforeseeable accidents, etc. Your crisis communications plan should account for these factors and the impact they may have on the community, your employees, and your reputation.
Operate under the assumption that someone is always watching and all internal communication is external communication. For one thing, camera phones are everywhere. In 2017, United Airlines endured a major scandal when several individuals recorded the forced deplaning of a fellow passenger.
If you are under constant scrutiny, then several conclusions logically follow:
- There is no aspect of your business, including personnel, that cannot come under scrutiny.
- There is no incident that doesn’t need to be defused.
- Dishonesty and ambiguity will backfire.
Set up your plan accordingly. Note that consistency is as important as transparency when it comes to communication. While you may need to course correct at some point, contradiction will give the impression of incompetence, or even duplicity.
Your crisis communications plan should address the following aspects of communications for businesses:
- The primary spokesperson for each channel/media
- Communication infrastructure and redundancies
- Decision-making process and chain of command
Detail your response to various situations, informing and training anyone that will be involved.
Once you’ve planned and practiced, remember that both your business and your world are fluid and will evolve. Make sure that you continually revisit your crisis communications plan and update it accordingly.
4. You need to react with urgency, not haste
When catastrophe hits, take a breath before taking action. There is no one-size-fits-all model for crisis communications, and not all situations require a public response. Some do, and it can help to address a matter early and transparently.
For example our client, Campus Advantage, is a global leader in student housing management, providing property management, consulting, acquisitions, and development with the goal of creating successful student housing communities. We initially developed a crisis communications plan for the organization, and have since updated and adjusted the plan based on different crises that have occurred. From property wide push notifications to press holding statements, crisis communications plans should be designed to fit your organization’s unique challenges and needs.
Emotions can run high in a crisis. That’s one reason many companies choose to hire a PR agency for crisis plan creation and management. An external, calm, and expert viewpoint is invaluable.
Afterwards, when the crisis has played out, it’s tempting to try fast-forwarding through the recovery stage. After all, you’re tired and eager to move on. But take your time. Be realistic about your timeline, and don’t neglect necessary aftercare or a review that could help you learn from your experience.
5. You are not alone
This can be both good and bad. On one hand, there are many eyes upon you and multiple stakeholders to whom your organization is accountable. On the other hand, you also have team members and supportive resources to tap into when things go wrong.
Perhaps most importantly, you don’t have to do it alone. Don’t neglect the opportunity to seek professional help. You can choose a PR firm based in Portland and Austin, like Bloom Communications, with a sterling record and multiple case studies to back it up.
Bloom Communications has helped many organizations prepare for and weather crises. Contact us today for the support you need and peace of mind you deserve.