When thinking about the topic of crisis communications, it’s easy to imagine a “West Wing” scenario, where serious, suit-wearing men and women huddle together in a smoke-filled room to deal with the latest political blunder by a troubled government official. The reality is that while crises in the business world may not be quite as dramatic or theatrical as they are in the West Wing, they can be just as catastrophic, and demand careful management.
The Oxford English Dictionary describes a crisis as, “a time of intense difficulty or danger”. Applied to the business world, a crisis can take on many different shapes and forms, depending on your market and the size of your organization. However, there are some basic principles that can be applied to most scenarios. So, here’s our five-step guide to crisis comms and how to keep a level head even in the most challenging circumstances.
The rise of digital communications has played a crucial role both in how crises form and how they are dealt with. Thanks to social media and 24/7 news, the speed with which information propagates around the world is mind boggling.
For example, imagine if the Titanic had sunk today. In 1912, it took days for the news to spread and there would have been large swathes of the world that remained unaware it had even happened. Fast-forward to the spring of 2015 when the Korean vessel Sewol sank, and the news spread instantly via passengers who shared the tragic experience with family and the media.
The internet hasn’t just dramatically increased the pace with which information is shared; it has also ensured that nothing is ever forgotten. Today, anyone with access to a smartphone can dredge up details from years ago and use them to revamp or support a new story.
This puts pressure both on the PR agencies that manage crisis comms and the businesses that get into troubled waters, to have policies in place to limit risk. Even so, mistakes happen, and while there is a natural desire to want to contain these crises, this is of course unrealistic in the internet age. Rather, a good PR agency must learn how to navigate these new waters, mitigate risk and soberly handle issues when they arise.
Most companies have a reactive approach to crisis communications, while successfully managing an issue requires that you have plans and training in place, so that you’re prepared should the worst happen.
Alexander Graham Bell, popularly credited with the invention of the telephone, once said that preparation is the key to success. In our case this unfortunately translates into being prepared for the worst. When crises arise, it is human nature to look to the leaders of the business to step up and take ownership.
This is where executive media training becomes crucial. Look at it as an insurance policy for the business, because when a crisis hits the worst thing a company can do is put ill-prepared, untrained representatives in front of the media. The likely outcome will be that they are forced to “wing it” or – much worse – shy away from responsibility altogether.
In today’s fast-paced digital environment you may find yourself in situations where time is of the essence, and you are expected to react at once. Being prepared is key.
Crisis communications serve two distinct purposes – one is dealing with the immediate circumstances, while the other is a matter of legacy. When managing a crisis, leaders and PR professionals must keep in mind that they are not only controlling the present flow of information, but shaping the future reputation of the organization too.
Remember that even in a crisis you are still in control of the situation. Well-prepared professionals can not only deal with a crisis as it occurs in real-time, but they can use it to their advantage by both controlling and guiding the flow of information.
It’s understandable to think that crisis communication is exclusively the domain of leading NASDAQ companies, whose share prices rely on carefully managing the global reputations of their brands. However, we believe that it’s a crucial discipline, no matter whether you’re a start-up, challenger brand or global colossus.
Consider how much you pay for insurance in your day-to-day life. Your property is insured, your car is insured – most likely the phone that you’re reading this blog on is insured. So why risk the reputation of your business by not taking steps to prepare for the worst?
At digitalPR, we understand crisis comms at every level and stand ready to help protect your business now, and in the future.
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