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The 8 Do’s and Don’ts of Crisis Communication

Crisis communication is easy to ignore when things go well but hard to ignore when things go wrong.

Indeed, some of the crises we remember best are the communication fiascos: typically, a hapless CEO uttering the “quiet part out loud,” then being savaged by a remorseless media.

Why do we get these iconic crisis communication moments? Often, it’s a failure to understand the importance of crisis communication and plan accordingly.

In fact, a new Capterra study speaks to this point, revealing that only 49% of U.S. companies have a formal crisis communication plan .

The remaining half of U.S. organizations – and a significant percentage of companies around the rest of the world – are, therefore, committing a major crisis communication don’t. And that is failing to plan.

What, then, are some of the countervailing crisis communication do’s? In the subsequent article, we lay out the top eight do’s and don’ts of crisis communication.

Examples of crisis communication responses to public crises

But first let’s look at some examples of communication responses to the biggest crises of the last twenty years.

The BP Oil Spill

The oil rig Deepwater Horizon exploded on the night of 20 April 2009, while drilling the Macondo Prospect. The rig contained 700,000 gallons of oil, which combusted as well, leaving a trail of smoke some 30 miles in length. In addition, at least 1,000 barrels of oil were found to be leaking from the blown out well, threatening to wash ashore onto the Gulf coast.

As expected, public outrage mounted daily on BP, which had been drilling the Prospect since the beginning of the year.

As a result, the oil and gas multinational would need a virtually perfect public response to mitigate reputational damage. But with CEO Tony Hayward acting as its chief spokesperson, BP would do itself no favors.

 

Critics accused Hayward of not taking full accountability for his company’s role in the disaster, instead shunting off blame to Transocean and other partners, weaponizing Hayward’s own statements: “This was not our accident… This was not our drilling rig… This was Transocean’s rig. Their systems. Their people. Their equipment.”

Additionally, Hayward came under fire for appearing to downplay the scale of the crisis. During an interview, he responded: “The Gulf of Mexico is a very big ocean. The amount of volume of oil and dispersant we are putting into it is tiny in relation to the total water volume.” He also added that the environmental impact would be “very, very modest,” and that he too was eager for the crisis to end because he wanted his “life back.”  

FIFA

Right around the time of the 2010 vote for 2018 and 2022 World Cup host sites, U.S. federal agents investigating corruption charges at FIFA, the governing body of global football, managed to flip Charles Blazer, a senior FIFA official and American soccer executive. Over the next few years, Blazer provided undercover cooperation to the growing corruption case against the organization.

The 65th FIFA Congress in 2015 to vote on global football’s next president, therefore, opened under the shadow of the U.S. Department of Justice’s first set of indictments.

Nominees for the top job included: incumbent, four-term president, Sepp Blatter, who’d been in the post for 17 years, and his reformist challenger, Prince Ali bin Hussein of Jordan. Sensing where the wind was blowing, UEFA (European football’s governing body) president, Michael Platini even urged Blatter to resign the day before the vote took place.

Blatter, however, dismissed Platini’s pleas. His response to the larger crisis now swirling around his organization and presidency: abrogate personal responsibility, confer responsibility on “a minority of individuals” over whom he couldn’t “monitor…all the time.”

The Barros Affair

On the eve of the Pope Francis’ visit to South America in 2018, the Karadima-Barros sexual abuse scandal was reignited after the leak of one of the pope’s letters to the Chilean bishop’s conference. Dating from 2015, the pope’s letter acknowledges the conference’s concerns about Barros’s suitability for the bishop role. It also reveals a plan to force out Barros and two other Karadima protégés.

Upon arriving in Chile, Francis attempted to tamp down the controversy before it flared into a full crisis. The pope issued a public apology for the “irreparable damage” suffered by all victims of sexual abuse. He also met and wept with two sexual abuse victims.

But on the last day of his trip to Chile, the pope, questioned by a local journalist, aggressively challenged any allegations of Barros’s involvement in Karadima’s alleged abuses. The pope shot back: “The day they bring me proof against Bishop Barros, I’ll speak. There is not one shred of proof against him. It’s all calumny. Is that clear?”

The Do’s and Don’ts of Crisis Communication

So, what can we learn from these infamous examples of crisis communication? The first thing is to have a crisis communication plan.

Often an annex to a larger crisis management plan, the crisis communication plan is a set of guidelines and activities used to prepare an organization for the knowledge-sharing aspects of an emergency or unexpected event.

An effective crisis communication plan ensures that a company’s spokesperson is on top of the facts and proactively dictating how the story gets told.

Add to that, a consistently updated crisis communication plan will go a long way toward preserving brand reputation and keeping companies afloat in an era of heavily mediatized corporate disasters.

What are some of the other do’s and don’ts of crisis communication? They include:

The Do’s of crisis communication

1. Monitor crisis risks

Most crises don’t just come out of nowhere. There’s plenty of indication of what’s going to happen. Your people have to be reading the tea leaves, often on social media, to anticipate when something will kick off.

2. Train people

And when a crisis does occur, you will need personnel who have been trained in their crisis management roles, including crisis communication and public information.

3. Collect and process information

Their responsibilities will likely include collecting and processing information for crisis team decision making.

4. Create and disseminate crisis messages

Information will come fast and furious during a mediatized crisis. It’s therefore important that crisis communication personnel are trained to create and disseminate crisis messages – with accurate information – to relevant stakeholders, e.g., the media, regulators, partners, and customers.

5. Provide follow-up crisis messages

These messages shouldn’t stop when the meat of the crisis response is over. Invested parties will often expect follow-up messaging about the crisis recovery and any plans to rectify mistakes that lead to the crisis in the first place.

The Don’ts of crisis communication

1. Withhold too much information

Organizations who don’t share what they know will likely be accused of being evasive or sneaky. Relevant audiences will naturally assume that those organizations did something wrong.

2. Have important spokespeople offering contrasting messages

Similarly, organizations will also lose the benefit of the doubt if they have multiple spokespeople offering contrasting messages. In that case, the public will assume the organization isn’t credible or competent, a severe reputational setback that might take years to recover from.      

3. Fail to correct the record adequately

With so much information floating around now, mis- and dis-information have become rife. If that false information is about your crisis-plagued organization, then you have a duty to correct the record before the public starts believing it’s true and acting accordingly.

Communicate quickly & effectively with digital crisis communication technology

Overwhelmed by the don’ts? You’re not alone. Many are, and that’s why all too often they fail to act.

However, one major boon to effective crisis communication has been automation and workflows. Leveraging these capabilities, crisis communication software helps organizations respond more quickly and efficiently to disruptive events, reduce manual effort and human intervention, and ensure consistency and reliability in critical tasks and processes.

What crisis communication capabilities matter? Integrated resilience management software providers like Noggin provide the following crisis communication functionality.

What crisis communication software capabilities matter?

MS, Email, Voice & App Notifications

With built-in communication and collaboration tools like chat, email, SMS, voice, and app push messages, Noggin makes it easy to work in real-time with your team, better coordinate your response, and keep everyone informed.

Message Templates

Prepare for any situation with pre-planned message templates, with dynamic content populated from a related event or other data, to reduce response time and ensure you deliver accurate and consistent messages when it matters the most.

Targeted Communications

Target your communications to specific roles, teams, groups, locations, or any contact attribute, to ensure the right messages get to the right people at the right time and include links back to any object in the system in the message content.

Location-Based Messaging

Easily identify personnel and assets in the vicinity of an event and trigger notifications to quickly get vital messages to them.

Message Response Management

Receive and action email and SMS replies, and capture message responses by incorporating response links in email or SMS messages, as well as audible response prompts in voice messages, and use these responses to conduct welfare checks or team activations.

Meetings & Calendar Events

Automatically invite recipients to calendar events, create Teams calls for those events, and track meeting acceptances.

Message Management

Relate messages to events, assets, or other objects, to form part of that record and include in timelines, use multiple system inboxes to receive email or SMS and organize messages by event, and apply message labels to easily categorize and find messages.

But don’t just take our word for it. Check out Noggin today for your crisis communication needs.

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