Handle Crisis Communications Like a Pro

Jun 10, 2016 | Public Relations

At a late-afternoon meeting, your mid-sized-company CEO mentions she’s about to lay off 20 employees, 20 minutes from now.

As the marketing director, do you:

  • A. Refuse to believe what you just heard?
  • B. Panic, panic and panic some more?
  • C. Calmly reach for the phone and call your public relations agency?

Naturally, we recommend option C. Why? Because we know our stuff.

We’ve handled communications for all types of crises, which tend to fall into one of three categories:

  • Immediate – think natural disasters, emergencies
  • Emerging – layoffs, like in the above example, or legal charges
  • Sustained – bankruptcies, pension issues

A crisis calls for a strategic, fine-tuned approach, but there are a few best practices that can help your organization navigate almost any PR challenge.

Create a plan (that works)

Even before a crisis arises, your company should have a communications plan in place that is practical for your company’s size, industry, geographic location and so on. The plan should include scenario examples for all types of crises and even drafted statements for affected personnel. Be sure to address worst-case scenarios, and become comfortable handling uncomfortable situations. Practice working through those scenarios by role-playing with a select team.

Assemble a team (and educate said team)

Create a team that will be able to address the media, general public AND internal staff at a moment’s notice. Word can travel fast, and you may need to communicate to separate audiences simultaneously, so it’s important to divide and conquer. Have one person who handles only reporters’ questions, while another person produces a social media post and yet another calls an all-staff meeting. Consider who might be the best person to address each group and the best platform for that message, be it email, phone or face-to-face meetings.

Train your team for potential crises. Then train them again (after six months or a year), make sure they’re still comfortable and discuss any new audiences — maybe your company added a Snapchat account since the last training. If any of your teammates leave their positions, make it a priority to bring a replacement team member up to speed.

When a crisis strikes, shine

When a crisis occurs, start by gathering your team and identifying priority audiences and messages. This varies dependent on the crisis, so it’s important to review and discuss from the beginning.

Oftentimes your priority audience is your internal staff. When time allows, build trust and reassurance by addressing employee concerns first. Additionally, you never know when the media could talk to ANY employee in your company directly. We’ve even seen reporters waiting in parking lots!

The message should include what your company is doing to address the problem and possible solutions. NEVER lie. It’s important to remain as honest as possible, even if that means saying “I can’t get into specifics, but I can tell you. . .” And be sincere. No matter the audience, they will appreciate someone who is considerate of all those affected. This can often mean apologizing for what happened before moving onto how your company is resolving the issue.

As crisis mode continues, ensure the company runs as smoothly as possible with just the crisis team handling the situation. If applicable, keep at least one person on call 24 hours a day during the most stressful time and establish clear times for updates. Be sure to stick to those times.

Does this still sound stressful? You don’t have to organize crisis communications on your own. We specialize in it and handle it for industries across the map. Count on us to successfully navigate your organization through a crisis. Talk to Gavin.