News travels fast. Bad news travels faster. Here are 9 ways to manage your communications in a crisis.
Do you remember when the boss of high street jewellery company Ratner’s described his own products as “total crap”? The now infamous gaffe wiped £500 million off the value of his business overnight back in the early 90s.
Fast forward to today, and ‘doing a Ratner’ (as it is affectionately known) is still common practice. Businesses are run by people. People make mistakes. After all, we’re all human.
From Ryanair’s failure to react in calling out racist abuse among airline passengers, to Pret a Manger’s decision to delay responding to the death of a customer, companies of all shapes and sizes continue to make ill-advised communications choices.
The trouble is, in the 24/7 world in which we live, where news travels in the blink of an eye, fuelled by rampant use of social media, companies that make errors are open to even more public scrutiny. In the last 12 months, for example, Facebook and Twitter have been awash with anger and resentment of companies failing to address issues that people feel most concerned about – from zero hours contracts and data confidentiality breaches, to fast-fashion supply chain slavery, and gender inequality.
In a world where transparency and trust have become a new brand currency, getting your communications right in a time of crisis can be crucial. So, here are nine pieces of advice for you to take away.
1. Take a strategic approach
To avoid your reputation being seriously damaged, it is vital that your company or organisation takes a strategic approach to the issue of crisis communications management.
Planning is key to minimising the risk to your business and ensuring your reputation remains intact.
Prepare a risk register to document all risk within the business and the potential actions that need to be put in place to manage the risk.
Work through the key departments to ensure all risks are considered.
Each department in your business should have its own business continuity plan, which outlines how they are going to mitigate their perceived risks as laid out in the risk register.
2. Employ a PR expert
When it comes to managing communications in a crisis, we recommend employing a PR expert from either an agency or in-house. They can help you develop a communications strategy to sit beside your business continuity plan.
This strategy should include details on:
- The team that is going to be involved;
- The audiences you will engage with, including the media;
- The social media platforms you will use; and
- What you will say, when you will say it and to whom.
3. Understand your audiences
It’s crucial that you know your audience. It will probably be extensive and not one stakeholder should be left out. Your different audiences might include:
- The media (including local, national, specialist B2B, etc);
- Social media followers and potential followers;
- Suppliers and partners;
- Trade bodies;
- Shareholders; and
- Banks or financial institutions.
4. Create a crisis team
We recommend creating a ‘crisis’ team consisting of senior employees from operations, comms, technical, HR and marketing, as well as IT and any web developers.
Make sure there is a complete list of everyone involved including their out of hours contacts such as mobile numbers and home numbers as a crisis can unfold at any time. Then, ensure all members of the team have access to this contact list and that it is constantly updated.
Don’t forget to include the receptionist as he/she is the one that potentially will receive calls, some of which could be difficult to handle. The brief should not be to answer any questions but direct them to someone within the crisis team.
5. Don’t forget SEO
Your web developers will need to be available to ensure the website is up to date with statements and/or news stories. Make sure that keywords from the crisis are included for Search Engine Optimisation purposes. This will ensure the website includes accurate content and is at the top of Google rather than a host of news stories about the crisis that might just be speculation.
The marketing team should be involved as they will need to brief the customer service team (in-house or via a call centre) and ensure that communications from customers are diverted and that they have answers to questions relating to the crisis.
6. Engage with the media
It is essential to have a dialogue with the media, especially if they have been in contact
It might be worth considering creating a ‘green’ room on site in case journalists or photographers start to appear in person. This will avoid the media (most likely the local media) wandering around your site. You don’t want them to bump into a disgruntled employee or one that is willing to speculate.
Make sure there is a press office to handle all media enquiries. This can be in-house or with a reputable agency.
Select one or two spokespeople, such as a senior manager or director. They should have good communication skills, be media trained, be able to speak to camera and, most importantly, have an excellent knowledge of the business.
7. Establish social media guidelines
A social media policy should be given to staff when they join to explain what they can and cannot say on social media platforms regarding their company. Outline best practices for sharing company content as well as commenting online and make sure they avoid controversial subjects.
Make it easy for employees to share the company’s social media content. But do not encourage employees to answer questions or comment unless they are part of the crisis team or, indeed, chosen spokespeople.
This also goes for the most senior people within the business, such as CEOs. Of course, they can support the company’s messaging and beware if they are prone to ‘go rogue’.
8. Decide what it is you’re going to say
You also need to decide exactly what you are going to say.
Have a bank of statements written covering the risks that could occur within the business. This will pay dividends at the time of crisis, especially when there is little time to act.
Plus, consider having a series of questions that your audience might ask and prepared answers, so no stone is left unturned and you are truly prepared.
Video is a great way to get your message across. Always use a spokesperson who comes across as honest and trustworthy.
9. Don’t say nothing
In most cases saying nothing is a bad idea. However, if all you have is one ranting complaint on social media from someone who seems to complain about everything, then you may choose to ignore them rather than engage in trying to pacify them.
Above all, be honest. If you need to say sorry then say sorry.