Crisis situations have become the norm rather than the exception in today’s business, political and civic worlds. From social unrest and activist opposition to environmental threats and aggressive lawsuits – it seems we are all living from crisis to crisis now. To respond effectively and protect the interests of impacted organizations, remember these three important things: Message, Speed and Emotion.
We all know that the nature of every crisis is different, and that there are endless case histories for handling a crisis, guidelines for preparing a great crisis planning manual and preparing for the worst case scenario. But most organizations and communications professionals don’t always have quick access to such luxuries when a crisis hits. What follows, in order of priority, is a pocket guide to crisis management.
Messaging. Gather and establish the facts involved, and develop key messages (sometimes called a message map) based around known facts vs. speculation. Less is oftentimes better than more to avoid potential liability when it comes to explaining a difficult situation or answering to allegations prior to its resolution. Make messages concise, memorable and repeatable. It is also effective to express sympathy for the hurt, explain steps taken to avoid a recurrence, describe steps to aid the victims and even take responsibility.
Speed. It goes without question that speed is vital to get into the public discussion of the crisis before other (non-friendly) voices fill the void. Identify and pro-actively utilize traditional and digital mediums to reach all stakeholders. Monitor online discussions and provide factual inputs to keep your interests well represented and avoid a one-sided discourse of the crisis.
Emotion. Crises are emotional situations, so show emotion publicly by expressing anger at wrongdoers, sympathy for adversely impacted parties, and even sorrow that the situation even happened in the first place, no matter who is at fault. Reference the facts when showing emotion publicly, and use a high level spokesperson to underscore the emotion of taking the crisis seriously.
Once a crisis is over, take the opportunity to thank those involved with helping to resolve it and even provide help to those left in need. Instead of being relieved that a crisis is over, use it as an opportunity to earn public goodwill. In the event that your organization is the bad actor, apologize and make restitution.