The biggest test to an organisation’s reputation is how it handles a crisis.
Crises are unpredictable and vary hugely in nature. Some may result in loss of life or significant injuries and others will be less dramatic, such as a major IT failure.
What they all have in common is the potential to cause a media storm leading to unhappy customers, employees asking questions and falling share prices.
It’s almost inevitable a crisis will strike your organisation at some point and you will find the media will be more demanding than ever before driven by an enormous public appetite for information.
Under such intense pressure there is little time for calm reflection, reviewing messages and planning responses from scratch.
To help you, here are the six things you need to focus on when you are in the eye of the storm.
Showing you care
You need to show your customers and potential future customers that you understand the severity of what has happened and the impact it has had.
Phrases like ‘deeply sorry’ and ‘deep regret’ are useful here – but speak from the heart – don’t become a cliché.
If the crisis revolves around an accident, show how you are helping those who have been injured. If the crisis has been caused by a loss of data, highlight how you are helping affected customers and working to ensure it cannot happen again.
Ensure all you communication shows compassion, concern, honesty and empathy.
Work with the media
In the pressurised environment of a crisis, when journalists are constantly contacting you for updates and information, it can feel like the media is the enemy.
But you should not allow those thoughts to impact your judgement. You need the media to get your messages across to you customers.
You cannot ignore them and hope they move on to another story.
Be proactive, open and act quickly. In the initial stages you may have limited information, but releasing a simple holding statement will show that you are aware of the situation, are taking it seriously and are in control.
It will prevent the spread of rumour and speculation – you don’t want to be on the back foot responding to questions from journalists.
Choose the right spokesperson
In most cases it will be the chief executive or company chairman who will front a communication crisis.
But they are not always necessarily the right person to put in front of the media. Of course, if your crisis is a tragic accident with multiple deaths or serious injuries, the head of the organisation needs to be there to show they care and are accountable.
But, if your crisis is a large IT failure, for example, would your IT director not be better placed to lead the media response?
You may also need to consider having more than one spokesperson if the crisis has affected multiple sites or the situation is likely to last several days.
In any crisis, you need someone who has had recent crisis management media training and who can demonstrate compassion, authority and honesty and be able to connect with the audience.
As well as meeting the demands of the media you are now faced with a range of extra channels to monitor, manage and feed.
The huge growth of social media also means a crisis is likely to reach the mainstream media much quicker than before.
Your customers will start tweeting and posting information about your crisis as soon as it happens and journalists will quickly get a lead for a story.
In fact your social media manager is likely to be the first person in your organisation to be aware of the crisis – and they will need to act quickly to prevent a media storm.
As with mainstream media, your need to respond quickly, provide regular updates and again communicate with compassion, concern, honesty and empathy. Regular social media training is a must and all staff should know what they can and can’t say online about your business – which includes when using their personal social media accounts.
It can be all too easy to focus on your external messages during a crisis and forget about your internal comms.
But an organisation’s employees are its ambassadors and can be strong advocates.
Ensure they know what the company is doing to deal with situation, be honest and ensure visible leadership.
An engaged workforce is less likely to give potentially damaging information to a journalist or post something unhelpful on social media.
The key to successfully managing a crisis is to have a robust and regularly tested crisis media management plan in place.
While you cannot prepare for every scenario you can make sure that everyone knows their roles and responsibilities should the worst happen.
A crisis can come in many shapes and sizes so think about vulnerabilities in your organisation and test your media plan against them with some role play and desktop exercises involving realistic and fast moving scenarios.
Use the exercises to develop your holding statements and anticipate the media questions you would be likely to face.
Download our FREE ebook to find out more about planning for a crisis. It includes a guide 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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