When your organisation is facing a crisis, good communication is crucial.
Do it well and it can reduce fear and uncertainty and gain some control of the story.
But how do you ensure your customers, stakeholders and the media see and hear what you have to say?
We’ve previously discussed in our crisis communication training blogs the importance of communicating quickly during a crisis.
But the earlier you begin to communicate, the more likely you are to be seen as a trusted source of information.
The longer you leave it, on the other hand, the more room you create for rumour and speculation to fill the void.
And that means you can quickly lose control of the narrative.
One of the best ways to ensure you can communicate quickly is to have pre-prepared holding statements that can be easily adapted to cover what has happened.
Once your statement is ready to go, you need to make it available in places where people will be going to look for information on the crisis.
Your website will be one of the first places journalists and customers will turn to for information, so you must keep it updated with the latest information on what has happened.
It may sound obvious, but it also needs to be easy to find this information, so link to it from your homepage.
It may be worth creating hidden pages now that can be made live as and when the worst happens.
Similar to having pre-prepared holding statements, this gives you a bit of a head start and will allow you to publish information quickly.
This is another place people are going to turn to for information.
So, make sure your statements are visible on your social media accounts.
One of the best ways to do this is to pin them to the top of your timeline.
Also, make it instantly obvious what the post is about. When Marriott Hotels suffered a large data breach, its social media posts were low key, talking about “valuing guests” and “understanding the importance of protecting personal information”, before mentioning what it described as a “database security incident.”
Once you’ve got your statements out there, be proactive about ensuring journalists have seen them.
For example, you could call back every journalist who has contacted the team for information and make sure they are aware you have now issued a statement or given an update.
You could also email it to them to ensure they easily have the response to hand.
And you could even read it out to them if they are out of the office.
These approaches all take time. But if it is the difference between your statements being seen or being missed, then it has to be something to consider.
In crisis media management incidents, you will often see journalists take to social media to ask organisations for a response or an interview.
The best approach with these is to reply to them publicly and link reporters to the information you have put out.
Not only does this ensure they have got your response, but it also shows the followers of those journalists – and anyone else who sees their posts - you are being helpful and are talking to the media about what has happened.
Journalists are, of course, not the only people to turn to social media for information. Your customers are likely to post about what has happened.
The temptation is to try to reply to all of them as well. The problem with this approach is it often leads to robotic responses where the same reply is copied and pasted every time.
So, if you do want to take this approach, the social media team needs to be trusted and given the freedom to adapt the wording.
If this does not seem feasible, post regular reminders about where people can find the latest updates.
Provide video responses
Your crisis responses do not need to be limited to text.
More brands are now turning to video to get their messages across about what has happened and the action they are taking to resolve the situation.
Video updates can be created quickly – you just need a smartphone. And they are a great way of showing visible leadership and controlling the message.
They can also help responses to stand out more than issuing another written statement.
A good strategy for ensuring journalists don’t miss your crisis statements is to set their expectations about when you believe you will have further information available.
Give them an idea of when you next expect to be releasing details and what form that will take.
Will it be another statement? A press conference? Maybe you will be making someone available for interviews? Or you might be planning to release a video update?
It not only means they will be keeping an eye out for your next update, but you might find the constant calls for more information reduce.
If you are not expecting to say anything for a couple of hours, explain why. Try to build a partnership with the reporters covering the story – they want a credible source of information and you need them to ensure your message is heard.
It is crucial to listen and monitor how the crisis is being covered.
If you are seeing lots of reports that say your organisation is yet to comment despite you releasing statements, you know something has gone wrong.
Contact those journalists, make them aware of your statement, and ask them to update their online stories with your response
Then retrace the steps we have outlined and think about how you can make your statements more visible.
Media First are media and communications training specialists with over 30 years of experience. We have a team of trainers, each with decades of experience working as journalists, presenters, communications coaches and media trainers.