When it comes to crisis communication, the name of the game is damage control. When a mistake turns into a crisis, it’s already too late to start planning and prevent it from having any negative impact.
However, by responding quickly, you can get the situation under control and remedy it so your business can come out healthy on the other side — perhaps even stronger. This is why it’s essential to have a crisis response plan in place.
Before preparing a crisis response plan, you must recognize the potential crises your business could face. Of course, you shouldn’t be able to forecast specific crises — and if you can, fix it before it hurts your business — but you can prepare for general types of crises. For example, you could prepare for a financial downturn in the economy, an organizational crisis caused by controversy, or a technological crisis caused by a massive data breach
Your crisis response team is one of the most important pieces of a crisis response. Your response plan should include this group of people who will be involved in managing the crisis and designate specific roles and responsibilities for each one.
The most crucial role to appoint for this team is the company’s spokesperson, who will serve as the face of the company in a time of crisis, and whom all communications should be routed through to ensure consistency in messaging. Most often, this person would be someone like the company’s CEO, communications director, or legal counsel, but it can be anyone designated to run point for the company’s communications.
Essential pieces of a crisis communications strategy
After you have these essential elements in place, it’s time to get into the nitty gritty of your response plan. How will you and your team react to a crisis when one arises? A few things you should consider include:
- Objectives: While formulating your communications strategy, you must identify the objectives of your crisis response. While your business’s overall aim in a crisis will be to “survive and thrive,” it’s also worth setting more specific, actionable goals. For example, do you want to reduce negative feedback by a certain percentage or rebound sales to a particular threshold? There may also be more specific goals determined by the situation.
- Key messages: Another essential aspect of a communication strategy is consistent messaging. If the public gets mixed messages from different sources, your business looks disorganized, and customers and stakeholders could grow distrustful. Although specific messages will vary by the crisis, the fundamental thing your business will want to get across is that you have control of the situation.
- Audience: Carefully consider the audience of your communication strategy. Some crises may be more internal, with the audience being employees or stakeholders, while others will be public crises involving the entire world. Don’t let the former become the latter, as this could cause something relatively minor to snowball into a massive issue — just see what happened with Silicon Valley Bank, as an example.
- Communication channels: You must also consider which communication channels are best to deliver your message. Sometimes, a simple press release or social media post will suffice. Other times, you might need to get more personal by holding a press conference or giving television interviews. Choosing the wrong channels could turn your crisis into a much bigger deal than it actually is.
- Protocols and procedures: Finally, establish a clear set of protocols and procedures for how those on the crisis team — and beyond — should proceed during a crisis. Set procedures for handling sensitive information so that its release can be controlled, and create a policy on what those in the organization other than the spokesperson should do if approached for comment. Having these policies in place avoids any confusion during the crisis itself.
Adjusting your crisis response
Once you have determined your business’s course of action, a solid next step is to perform mock exercises to practice how you would proceed in a theoretical crisis and adjust your plan accordingly. While mock exercises won’t show you exactly how a potential crisis will play out, as they are merely simulations, they can give you an idea of what might go down and how you may need to reevaluate your strategy. That said, be careful to maintain privacy in these mock exercises, as you don’t want the bad optics of “preparing for a crisis.”
Still, no matter how much planning and preparation you do, you will not know how well a crisis response plan will work out until it’s implemented in a real-life scenario. It’s essential to remain flexible in crises, using the response plan not as a definitive method but as a guide, adjusting strategy as the circumstances require.
Businesses must also learn from the successes or failures of their crisis communications strategies. The public is quick to forget and forgive a mistake, but if a business shows a history of making the wrong error, it will begin to be seen as untrustworthy.
A crisis is not a good time for any business, but by enacting a response plan, your business can come out on the other side. Take time to formulate a strong response strategy while your business is in a time of relative calm, as this will allow you to jump into action quickly whenever a crisis arises.
To learn more about how Otter PR can help you with your crisis management needs, visit our website or book a consultation today.
Thomas Mustac is Otter PR‘s medical and health industry PR specialist. He previously held positions at the “Dr. Oz Show” and New York Medical College. He has his Master’s Degree from Iona University and received an Advanced Certification in Nonprofit Public Relations. He has a diverse background in healthcare, pharmaceutical, telehealth, tech, cosmetics, sports, and interior design public relations.