A communications crisis can be one of the most difficult situations in your career. Crisis preparedness, internal education and having the right tools can aid you before a crisis hits. Crisis situations require research so that you can address the circumstance thoughtfully, and multi-channel rapid response. With careful planning, you can put together an effective PR crisis plan that allows you to move quickly and avoid pitfalls.
Here are three steps for effective crisis communications management:
1. Have a crisis plan (not just ideas)
A situation that once may have taken weeks to unfold can now grow into a crisis in a matter of hours. No brand is immune. Crisis communication strategies need to be designed for both internal stakeholders – employees, teammates, management – as well as a variety of external stakeholders – customers, partners, and of course the media. Identify who is responsible for listening, and when. Are you covered on weekends and off hours? Establish an escalation protocol. Once someone at your company or agency partner (i.e. a PR manager or social media manager) identifies a potential crisis, it is important to know the next steps to take.
Map out what is and isn’t a crisis, who needs to be alerted and who should respond. Knowing who in your company needs to get involved, what questions to ask during a crisis, and how you’ll use data to strategically craft your message with the appropriate systems in place in advance can make a significant difference. Empower your employees and advocates with information and let them know when to escalate to others. Preparing them ahead of time can help you share information and avoid rogue responses during a crisis.
2. Respond quickly and transparently
It’s tempting to ‘go dark’ while you investigate, but how and when you respond to a crisis is crucial to saving your brand’s reputation. The ability to act decisively and swiftly with transparent responses is imperative. Those who are listening are awaiting your response, so acknowledging the situation and saying “We are aware…” or apologizing if necessary is a must. This is the scary part. Apologizing in a time of crisis can lead to legal concerns. If you are nervous about whether you can actually apologize, create a hub for information: whether it is your blog or a (possibly pre-prepared) landing page on your website, be the source of truth.
Without this, the public will turn to other sources for information, which may be inaccurate. Above all, remember to be empathetic and compassionate toward the situation and the current socio-cultural environment, and to be clear in your communication.
3. Use data to see the full picture
The most critical asset in a time of crisis is information, and utilizing data to understand and analyze the situation is vital. Just like insurance, it’s important to have media monitoring tools so that you know immediately when a crisis starts. Aggregating content and identifying trends without reading every article can provide you with a warning system so that you know when to activate your crisis communications strategy.
Make sure that you have access to complete and accurate tracking of the coverage of and conservation about the situation quickly and easily. Things move fast during a crisis so identifying where and when your strategies have taken hold and creating benchmarks that signify your progress over time will enable you to ask, “How did we do?” and “What can be done differently in the future?” after a crisis has passed so that you can establish the takeaways to add to your crisis communications plan. Thinking about the five elements of a PR crisis data cycle is a good start.
After careful planning, quick response and the establishment of takeaways from the real-time data-driven iterations of your public relations response, adjust your protocols and plan for the future. Handling every aspect of a crisis perfectly may not be guaranteed, but it is possible.
Schedule a demo to see how you can use one of our media monitoring and PR measurement tools to stay on top of every conversation happening about your business—crisis or not.