“What are we telling the media?”
“Has anyone prepared anything to say to the stakeholders?”
“Do you think we’ll need to hold a press conference?”
There were the phrases I would typically hear in my press office days when we were in crisis media management mode.
What I can’t recall being said very often was “what are we saying to our people?” And on the few occasions a question like that was posed, I would bet that it would have been several days before it was asked.
But I’m sure my experience is not unique. It is often the employees who are forgotten or who are the last to learn about a crisis media management situation and what the organisation is doing to tackle it, particularly during the initial intense scramble, as the focus tends to centre on external messages.
However, this approach is flawed as it is not just the public that is affected by a crisis – employees are as well.
In fact, they could face the greatest impact and uncertainty.
However, if they are communicated with effectively, they can play a key role in turning the crisis around and helping to rebuild the organisation’s reputation.
Here is what organisations need to do to ensure that one of their most important audiences during a crisis doesn’t become the one they neglect:
Keep them updated
In the same way that you would provide regular updates to journalists and social media followers, it is also vital that timely and frequent information is also given to staff.
Ensure that they get to see press releases and any public statements when they are released to the media – not hours or days later.
During a crisis you may not have all the facts in place when you are communicating externally, so there is no reason why you can’t also start talking to staff while there may still be some blanks.
Essentially, they are very similar audiences in that they both want to know in the early stages of a crisis that the organisation is aware of the incident and is taking action.
The more updates you provide the more likely it is that the internal comms will be seen as a trusted source of information during the crisis.
Let them ask questions
Employees are likely to have questions about what has gone wrong.
And if they can’t find the answers internally, they could turn to social media to voice their fears, concerns and doubts.
For comms teams, this means, much like when dealing with the media, anticipating what is likely to be asked and what can be said in response.
Find a place – probably on the intranet – where questions can be asked and answered. If the answers are provided by leaders, this can help go towards creating the visible leadership needed internally – and externally – during a crisis.
Social media can be a very powerful tool when managing a reputational crisis, but it is worth remembering that it also gives the public and journalists access to a trusted source of information – your employees.
Insider information has always been valuable and channels like Facebook and Twitter make it easier than ever to find.
Guidelines and training are crucial so that employees know whether they are allowed to talk about the incident on their personal accounts.
But some bravery from organisation’s can be crucial here. Not only is it likely to be pretty futile to stop employees saying anything on their social media accounts, but it could actually be beneficial.
Posts from employees of the organisation are likely to be seen as being more authentic and credible than any corporate updates, so employees could become the strong brand advocates they really need during difficult times with some guidance and information.
Ensure they know the media rules
Would your employees know what to do if they were approached by the media during a crisis media management incident?
Receptionists, security and maintenance staff typically will all wear branded clothing and are highly visible members of the team and easily accessible to journalists.
Would they know how to react or who to make aware of the media interest? Are they allowed to speak to the media? What should they do if a journalist calls outside of normal office hours?
Guidelines and perhaps a basic level of media training for all staff can be crucial here and remove some of this worrying uncertainty. You can even give them lines to use if they are approached by a journalist – pointing them in the right direction of who they should be speaking to - so that they don’t come out with something defensive sounding like ‘we’ve been told we’re not allowed to speak to you’.
All organisations are vulnerable to a crisis, regardless of their size.
One of the keys to handling a crisis successfully is to prepare and plan for the unexpected.
This includes identifying potential vulnerabilities and knowing how you would respond if the worst was to happen.
Internal comms needs to be involved in that planning process and be part of crisis teams. They should also be involved in any crisis simulations exercises that an organisation might arrange to put those plans to a test.
This will help to ensure that employees are kept informed in the event of a real crisis happening.
*Download our FREE eBook to find out more about planning for a crisis. It includes a checklist to helping you identify the right spokesperson, messaging templates and a risk register to help you identify your organisation’s vulnerabilities.
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.
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