In this modern, heavily mediatized age, we’ve become painfully familiar with the most common, crisis communications gaffes: the public announcements that are quickly back tracked; the press conferences more notable for the (mis)behavior of officials than the content of the statements made; and the live interviews of angry families deriding a lack of candor and communication from officials.
Most recently, the public safety agencies handling the White Island volcano eruption in New Zealand have come under criticism for their crisis communications. But in its ubiquity, the issue transcends the single case study, which makes it’s worth asking: what are the crisis communication challenges that lead these agencies and organizations astray?
Lack of a crisis communications plan ranks highly. A majority of corporate communicators say that their company either lacks a crisis communications playbook (48 percent) or are unsure of whether they have one (12 percent), according to a Nasdaq Public Relations Services survey.
Nor is having a plan enough. Organizations often build crisis communications plans without the following key elements:
- A set of pre-fab messages (including press releases) based on likely crisis scenarios.
- Designated company spokesperson (usually the CEO) to serve as the face and voice of the crisis response.
- Instructions for regular media trainings for that spokesperson.
- A strategy for crisis response on your social channels – procuring a social media monitoring platform helps in this specific regard.
Crisis communications planning, aside; there’s another crisis communication challenge that’s starker, still. It’s the fundamental misunderstanding of the purpose of crisis communicating. What’s that purpose, exactly? Well, according to the Institute of Public Relations, the purpose of crisis communications is to respond quickly and effectively to the crisis, with the goal of reducing its overall impact. As such, crisis communications need to be fast, accurate, and consistent.
Why? Because communicating quickly in response to a crisis allows an organization’s leaders to tell the story from their perspective rather than allowing someone else control the public narrative. Speed is also essential in crises that involve public safety. Not just that, accurate, consistent communications help increase the credibility of an organization; conversely, poor communication in a crisis can torpedo that organization’s reputation.
So, what can you do to overcome these crisis communications pitfalls? Plan for speed, accuracy, and consistency. That way you can communicate early and often with everyone affected. For practical purposes, ensuring speed means implementing then revisiting your stakeholder analysis, carefully considering how you’ll contact each group of stakeholders. For instance, employees could be reached by email or text, but the public might need updates from your website, social media, or the news.
Plan for accuracy by determining where you keep the information that’s relevant to the key risks you’ve identified. Think about who has access to that information and how they’ll share it with all relevant stakeholders. Only portray information as certain if it genuinely is. Otherwise, you may have to contradict yourself – where have we seen that before?
After your plan is created, review and practice it at least once a year. Routine exercises keep the plan fresh in employees’ minds, trains new employees, and crucially reveals potential areas for improvement. Make sure that as you review, you are thinking about how your business and its systems have changed in the last year
Also, include a post-crisis review in your plan. Take the time to analyze how well you executed on your plan and how well the plan itself met your needs. For example, were there risks you hadn’t identified that you need to prepare for now, before the next crisis strikes?
Finally, consider how well your systems did—or didn’t—perform. Some crisis systems don’t hold up to the task of communicating during a crisis. So, ensure that like Noggin Crisis, your crisis management solution lets you communicate about events via email, SMS, or app notifications, as well as enables easy collaboration among team members via event-specific chatrooms. If it doesn’t, look elsewhere to find an advanced solution that lets you give the public the certainty it needs during a crisis.