16 December 2020|Crisis Management, Latest Posts, Marketing, PR, Promotion
By Judith O’Leary, founder and managing director of PR and digital comms agency, Represent Comms. Unfortunately, at some point or another, most businesses will face a crisis of some form or another. Whether it is a data breach, a disgruntled former employee, a malfunctioning product, an environmental issue or more recently, a global pandemic forcing businesses to change how they do things overnight, a crisis can hit at any time.
A crisis of any nature can threaten an organisation’s reputation and cast doubt over its future and a poorly managed crisis can ruin a business for years to come. Yet unfortunately most organisations tend only to focus on crisis communications when the event is already happening.
The way you choose to communicate in a crisis reflects your brand, your values and your entire ethos as a business and so it is absolutely vital to have a plan in place because the best way to manage a crisis is to prepare for one. While each scenario is unique and will have factors beyond your control, preparation is key. At Represent, here is how we advise clients prepare for when things go wrong:
Develop a crisis comms team
Create a dedicated crisis comms team responsible for planning and communicating during a crisis. This should include a representative from all aspects of the business – PR, marketing, sales, HR, IT and finance, as well as your senior leadership team. They should have in depth knowledge of the business, be able to think on their feet, and have the authority to make important decisions.
Plan, plan and plan
Ensure your crisis comms team meets regularly to review potential threats, both internal and external, and develops a plan for dealing with each potential crisis. Having processes in place for all eventualities will enable you to deal with them much quicker and more efficiently and reduce the potential for reputational damage.
Know your stakeholders
Understanding who your key stakeholders are is absolutely vital to executing effective crisis comms. Think about who you need to communicate with – employees, customers, the local community and the media (to name but a few) and then plan, plan and plan again for each and every potential scenario.
Train your leadership team
Unfortunately, an issue or crisis may attract media attention. In these cases, it’s important you have a spokesperson trained for media interviews. Do some media training in advance to give your spokespeople the skills to control an interview and stick to the agreed messaging. It is a hugely valuable process that leaves participants confident and prepared to handle whatever tricky media questions they may be faced with. You don’t want to be left red faced like BP chief executive, Tony Hayward, who following an oil spill that resulted in the death of 11 people, told a host of journalists: “There’s no one who wants this over more than I do. I’d like my life back.” This did nothing but exasperate the crisis.
Be consistent in your messaging
Clear and concise messaging is vital. Be consistent, honest and draw on the facts, while being careful not to speculate about the unknown. Be clear about what you are going to do to address the issue and then be sure to share the same message across all your communication channels. Make sure anyone taking calls at your organisation repeats the same message day in day out until the crisis passes. And don’t forget that once it has, it is even more important than ever to share positive news from your company in the months ahead.
How you respond to a crisis can make or break your reputation. That’s why it is vital to plan – assemble a team, plan for different scenarios, ensure you are consistent in your messaging and train your spokespeople so that if and when a crisis does occur, you are ready for it.
About the Author:
Judith is founder and managing director of Edinburgh-based PR & digital marketing agency, Represent Comms. She has over 20 years’ experience working with businesses to build their profile, manage their reputations and generate leads. Recently awarded Creative Industries Leader of the Year, Judith is well known for living and breathing her clients’ businesses and her enviable contact list is testimony to the reputation she has built during her career to date.
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