Whether your company caters to consumers or to other companies, you at some point will likely have to address—or advise upper management on how best to handle—a business crisis. Adequate planning is necessary to withstand the potential onslaught of a media maelstrom, accompanying a business crisis. If the plan is carefully conceived and faithfully implemented, your company can actually emerge stronger than before the crisis hit.
Following are eight time-tested tips that public relations professionals should heed when trying to weather a communications crisis. Several of the recommendations come courtesy of Dr. Joe Trahan III, APR and PRSA Fellow, who was the featured expert in a recent webinar sponsored by BurrellesLuce. The webinar, entitled “Crisis Communications: When the Stuff Hits the Gumbo Pot,” is available for review in the free BurrellesLuce Resource Center.
1. Position crisis communications as the key to continuity. Persuading executives and business owners that it is essential to have a crisis plan can be a difficult task. Organizations often have the mentality that a crisis will not happen to them. In reality, though, it is a question of when, not if, a crisis will arise. To truly get everyone on board with crisis planning, you must “sell it as a matter of operations,” explains Dr. Trahan. In concrete terms, crisis management enables a company to continue operating at the highest possible effectiveness during a crisis. Without a plan, a company can get distracted from its main source of revenue and meeting client needs.
2. Incorporate all channels of communication. Regardless of the chosen strategy, companies should look at all forms of communications channels when handling a crisis. “Whether it is sending an email to your staff, responding to a reporter’s questions or posting to your Facebook page, all tactics need to be treated as equally vital in the communications process,” declares this Business 2 Community Post on social media crisis communications. To avoid even one aspect of crisis communications can be detrimental to brand, client, or company reputation and constituent favor.
3. Take responsibility for the problem. Companies and brands get into real trouble when they try to skirt the issue or place the blame elsewhere. It is far better to own up to the problem and outline how your company, brand, or client is working to address it. Think about the messages and how they are crafted. Tell your publics what you’re doing and communicate what’s going on. If you’re making particularly good strides, be sure to talk about that as well.
4. Avoid replying with ‘no comment.’ “By saying ‘no comment,’ you are saying you’re guilty,” Dr. Trahan contends. He suggests instead that spokespersons incorporate bridging techniques . If you don’t know the answer to the question, he explains, you can tell them “I don’t know that at this time,” “This is what I do know,” or “I will find out.” This way, you’re able to get information out quickly, however little there may be at the time. Then follow up later as new developments occur. Bridging phrases are powerful tools to help you speak the truth and comment on what you do know.
5. Monitor and assess. It’s imperative that you know what’s being said about your company and who’s saying it. That’s because, in a crisis situation, you need as much detail as you can gather in order to ensure that you, in turn, can provide the specific type of information that your publics are seeking. Failing to address the expressed concerns of the various stakeholders carries the potential to exacerbate the crisis.
6. Correct media errors right away. You never want inaccurate media coverage to go uncorrected. Quickly setting the record straight is an urgent necessity in today’s digital age, when words and images can reach millions of people in virtually real-time. If information is wrong, pick up the phone and talk to the reporter who made the mistake or meet in person if the misreporting continues. In any event, constantly disseminate your story through as many relevant channels as you can. This will improve the odds that the information the public receives is not only accurate, but also reinforces the messages you want to deliver.
7. Avoid off-the-record remarks. As you build relationships with The Media, it gets increasingly difficult to remember what you’ve said, and to whom. That’s one reason never to speak off the record. Another reason is that for many reporters and bloggers, nothing is off the record. Even if they do agree to go off the record, what you tell some people may not be protected by shield laws.
8. Revisit the plan. Your plan should be a living, breathing document. It needs to be cared for and nurtured. Overcome the common tendency to forget about the crisis plan once it is created. You can never tell when you’re going to have to use it, so, to ensure its effectiveness, review the plan periodically and revise any scenarios and details that may be outdated.
With the proper tools in hand, communications professionals can gain the confidence they need to capably represent their company, client, or brand during a crisis.
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