Are you ready for a crisis?

Here at More Fire PR when we receive a call from a new client who’s facing a crisis, things are usually moving fast for them.

Crises come in all shapes and sizes and can range from problems with employees, product failures, reputational challenges and even sometimes very sadly the death of an employee.

The prospect of suddenly being thrown into the media spotlight while trying to manage difficult operational matters can leave leaders facing the dilemma of who to speak to first, what to say or not to say, and trying to decide the important order of activities.

A key rule in crisis management is to avoid saying ‘no comment’ or stonewalling media altogether. It’s important to create a holding statement at the outset of the crisis. This is usually brief and contains only the necessary facts of an incident or issue.

It’s also important to communicate this statement to all of your employees and stakeholders, while keeping in mind that what you say internally to your organisation should be the same as what you’re saying externally.

If you try to produce a ‘secret’ set of internal commentary, expect to see this in the media almost as quickly as you write it.

Once the holding statement is approved and released, it’s time to start planning mid-term and longer-term. Issues to consider include:

  • Who is in charge of the crisis management process?
  • Who is our chief point of contact and spokesperson for communications issues during the crisis?
  • Involve relevant teams or individual more broadly as part of your crisis response – for example, issues could involve legal and HR and insurance professionals, as well as – in extreme cases – regulatory authorities or the emergency services
  • What are the facts – in terms of the crisis incident break this down as ‘who, what, why, where, when?’
  • How serious are the repercussions? Mild, significant, potentially catastrophic?
  • Audiences – who do we need speak to; what to they need to know, when do they need to know it buy?
  • Are there other parties or partners we need to coordinate messaging and developments with?
  • What is our proactive communications plan – ‘known knowns’ that we can prepare to respond to.
  • What is our reactive communications plan – ‘known unknowns’ we might need to respond to?
  • Do we have procedures to manage the type of problem that has occurred? Did we follow them? If not, what can we learn from this and do better in the future?

The use of social media as a platform for expressing views and opinions in real time has made crisis management increasingly difficult, particularly as a forum where facts and exaggeration mix freely in the public domain.

While online social chatter during a crisis is difficult to control, a structured release of facts from your organisation – as the official source involved – can help calm unfounded or unnecessary hysteria.

It’s best to prepare a crisis plan in advance for what might happen with the help of a PR professional and as part of your wider business continuity planning. However, if things go wrong and you’re totally unprepared, remain calm and lead decisively. There’s always a solution.

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