As a business owner, it’s tempting to think about crisis communications in terms of general risk assessment. If I live in Seattle, do I really need earthquake insurance? If I’m a small healthcare technology startup, should I really be concerned about a data breach or hacker? You have so much to handle and such limited time and resources, why worry about worst-case scenarios?
Don’t let the unlikelihood of the “sky is falling” event stop you from being prepared for the inevitable rough patch. It’s important to think about crisis communications as a scalable system. The steps taken to extinguish a smoldering dish towel should also work for a towering inferno.
No matter what kind of business you run, or operate within, messaging and communications response time is important. It’s how you build and keep a relationship with your customers at all times, even when you can’t say much about a situation. If you’ve done a good job at messaging, your audience is listening. How you interact with them in the crucial moments during and following a crisis will decide whether or not that trust is kept and the relationship continues smoothly. Unfortunate things happen and people can be understanding. As long as it’s addressed with integrity and leadership, even the most difficult crisis can soon be water under the bridge.
Once you’ve decided to craft a crisis communications plan, you’ll want to build it around a successful outcome. Although there are many facets to effective crisis communication, here are four important principles to keep in mind.
- Training. Make sure everyone on your team knows the drill. Run through the possibilities. Designate roles. Pull together a phone and email tree. It should be understood who will be doing any and all talking to the media and making statements online in the various digital channels. Even with the best intentions, too many people saying the right thing can muddle the message and have disastrous results. Consistency is key.
- Timing. Our world moves at the speed of Twitter, and your response should too. In the time it takes to figure out your messaging from scratch, your reputation could be toast. The sooner you join the conversation the sooner you can change it. The way to do this is by having your crisis protocols firmly in place and initiating them calmly and quickly. If you are a large or small organization, develop the internal systems for reacting quickly and gain the appropriate permissions before the crisis hits. Be nimble, appropriate and authentic. React without overreacting but prepare.
- Transparency. The truth always comes out, and you want to be the one telling it first. Transparency is the hallmark of integrity, and your customers will be much more forgiving if they feel like you’re being straight with them. If you remain silent, people will shape their own story. Tell them the truth. Own the situation. While this doesn’t mean tying your own noose, it does mean you are one hundred percent in acknowledgement of the facts, factors and gravity of the situation.
- Tone. What does the situation call for? Sometimes humor is effective, but usually not. Your customers want to feel like you care about their interests (safety, data, personal details, money, merchandise, etc.) and are doing everything you can to protect them. How seriously are you taking this? It’s a delicate line to walk, but successful messaging is both empathetic and pragmatic. Make sure the person in charge of communication understands this. Know your personality.
Monsoons may be unlikely on the seas of business but choppy waters are not. Be prepared for both by having a comprehensive crisis communications plan in place, fresh and ready to go. Smart handling of a tough situation can actually build credibility and trust between you and your customers. It is a tiny investment for a long-term play. If you treat every communication as an opportunity to connect and grow you can not only weather the storm intact but be better for it.
The Fearey Group specializes in crisis communications and preparedness training programs for companies and individuals. The firm helps companies and people through “in-the-moment” crises—whether you need a message, a spokesperson, an online reputation change or someone to just strategize with you. The Fearey Group has the skillset and the experience to help you through your next situation. Contact us for crisis rates or call us at 206-343-1543.