What are the rules for crisis communication?
Ransomware attacks, allegations of bullying, Twitter storms – the world is becoming an increasingly risky place for all kinds of organisations. It’s little wonder then, that at Communicate Media, we’re doing an increasing number of crisis training communications courses.
We help clients in sectors such as travel, finance, retail and a growing number of law firms to manage their communications during a crisis. Over the last few weeks, we’ve worked with a magic circle law firm, a retailer and a manufacturer to create relevant crisis scenarios and then to put their senior spokespeople through a range of media interviews. After each interview, we’ve provided feedback and recommendations.
On top of looking at how to handle the media in a crisis, we also take our clients through a checklist of their operations and procedures so that after following the crisis comms workshop, they feel better prepared to manage every aspect of these unwelcomed events.
Here are some important rules to consider if you’re handling a crisis.
With crisis communications, we used to talk about “the golden hour.” This is the time following an incident where the organisation concerned could respond to the issue in hand and get on the front foot. These days that hour is reduced to just a few minutes.
The media is a 24/7 business and social media has revolutionised crisis communication. The first time many organisations hear about the awful trouble is through social media. This means that you need to ensure that your entire organisation is ready to act quickly as soon as anyone in any position identifies an event that could become a crisis.
You have to express sympathy or concern.
Now, this doesn’t mean that you need to apologise. Many of the organisations we work with are wary of accepting liability in a difficult situation, which is quite understandable. However, even if you don’t want to admit at this stage that you’ve done something wrong, you can still offer general sympathy and concern. This will make you sound relatable and caring.
Make it clear that you’re taking action.
There’s nothing the media love more in a crisis situation than a company that is apparently frozen with fear or, at the other end of the scale, appears to be complacent and unaware of how much trouble it is in. Even before you know the full extent of the threat or the problem, you can demonstrate that you are taking certain actions that will give the media something to report on and reassure your target audiences.
Monitor social media and respond.
Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn offer opportunities for two-way communication. You can use them to put out your crisis communication statements and updates, but they also enable you to find out what is going on and what is being said about your organisation at this difficult time.
Provide comment early on.
Even if you don’t know what is happening and the full extent of a crisis has yet to be revealed, you can still be open and transparent with the media and other audiences. The media is a hungry beast and never more so than during a fast moving crisis. If you don’t provide spokespeople, then finding other commentators is usually the Media’s following action – and you might not like what they have to say about you as you have no control over who has been selected to navigate the crisis.
Of course, you don’t want to jump the gun or make yourself a hostage to fortune. However, there are several things you can say even when there’s nothing to say. Making it clear that you’re ready to talk and engage can help mitigate the damage done by a crisis.
Many organisations we work with have a crisis manual – the problem is that it’s a file tucked away on a computer that hasn’t been looked at for months or even years. However, our crisis communications training courses are about helping you to head off the worst of a crisis while offering you opportunities to turn it to your advantage.
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