The imperatives of crisis communication – Daily Times
A seizure, whether natural or man-made, can occur at any time. It can leave an organization unprepared and, at times, paralyzed by its appearance. These unforeseen internal and external events can easily drive an organization into a defensive stance and turn the most proactive company into a reactive entity as it acts to protect its people, image and reputation. In times of crisis, an effective communication strategy is inevitably an essential part of successfully managing or mitigating that crisis. Organizations could make ethical decisions to accept responsibility, maintain accountability, allow access to information, and provide humanitarian assistance when victims are involved. These steps will also have an impact on the process of image restoration and post-crisis organizational recovery. If ethical principles have been followed conscientiously and effectively, many collateral damages to the reputation of the organization can be significantly controlled. The value of seeing a crisis as an opportunity is that it encourages reflection and learning through an evaluation process. Likewise, a learning process has the potential to provide more effective responses to adverse conditions and help prevent future crises.
Errors and faults are an integral part of life. Admit them when warranted and resolve the situation quickly. You’ll be in a better position to admit you’re wrong than to let others, including your competition, drive the narrative by pointing out your flaws.
Best practices can be described as a method or technique that has consistently shown superior results to those obtained with other means and has improved the results of the entity. They serve to maintain quality, present useful action guidelines to help companies achieve the best results, improve organizational performance and gain a competitive advantage. The good news is that much of the work around crisis communications can be done before disaster strikes. Just as the need for crisis communication is virtually unavoidable, the reasons why most businesses would need to employ crisis communication tactics are also quite predictable. It’s not hard to guess what kind of worst-case scenarios Boeing communications executives stay up late at night worrying about. From huge multi-billion dollar conglomerates to small stores, all businesses should take note of these crisis communication best practices so they are prepared when unfortunate events knock on their door. The more thoughtful and deliberate crisis planning and analysis you do in a calm and normal environment, the fewer decisions you will have to make on the fly during the tense, fast-paced and chaotic whirlwind of events that is the crisis. Identify some of the most likely crisis scenarios, key messages, scripts, spokespersons and crisis chain of command in advance. Document everything in a crisis plan. Even if you never have to put the plan into action, its mere existence will bring peace of mind to company executives and hopefully provide job security for marketing and communications managers.
Errors and faults are an integral part of life. Admit them when warranted and resolve the situation quickly. You’ll be in a better position to admit you’re wrong than to let others, including your competition, drive the narrative by pointing out your flaws. If you solve the problem immediately, you send the message that your company is actively looking for a solution. When communicating errors to the market, be sure to include these three essential elements: what happened, why it happened; and how you respond to it. Once a crisis arises, respond to it immediately and honestly. If you don’t step in to provide the facts and control the narrative, the media and your competitors will be more than happy to fill the void. Use the most effective communicator in your organization and all available channels to spread the message. Use friendly reporters with whom you have established strong working relationships, don’t wait for them to call you. Broadcast a message that is simple, direct and, above all, consistent. After the initial crisis response phase, it is time to start thinking about a post-crisis plan. It’s not exactly a return to “business as usual”, but it’s a welcome change from the previous state of emergency. At this point, it is important to follow through on any public promises made during the crisis to release information. Also provide regular updates on any actions taken to mitigate future crises, any information on the recovery process or the results of investigations into the cause of the crisis. Without a doubt, a crisis is a negative situation that we would all like to avoid, but if there is a positive one, it is an opportunity to learn from the experience. Perform a post-crisis analysis that examines and details everything that worked and everything that didn’t. Update your crisis response plan accordingly and cross your fingers that you don’t have to dust it off any time soon. The roots of crisis communication lie in an organized approach created to minimize damage to an organization and its stakeholders.
When inspected thoroughly, crisis communication is broken down into a three-step process in the order of pre-crisis, crisis response, and post-crisis. The pre-crisis phase mainly focuses on the time before a crisis situation arises and a company or organization specifically aims for prevention. When an organization or a company prepares, a crisis inventory is carried out so that crisis managers are attentive to the crises in progress. Crisis inventories include categorizing crises on a scale of zero to five, measuring the possibility of the crisis occurring, as well as the amount of potential damage imposed on the organization. At this stage, the PR practitioner prepares for the manifestation and management of a potential crisis. Essentially, the primary function of crisis communication management is not to win or lose, but rather to address and sustain the current crisis and minimize the damage it may impose on the organization. For the second phase, the response to the crisis, the planning of the actual message and the responses are put into action. At this stage, public relations has the daunting task of creating and disseminating information to various audiences close to the organization.
These messages are disseminated by all types of media, including newspapers, radio and television. Previous studies suggest that these forms of traditional media influence how people act on given topics. This particular phase can be divided into two groups: the initial crisis response and the repair of reputation and behavioral intentions. In separating a group into smaller segments, the practitioner has the ability to target each message to a certain audience with a greater chance of getting the desired outcome and positive message retention. In targeted messages, audiences can receive messages that are only important to them.
Keeping these facets in mind, online communication innovation is quickly becoming an important strategic requirement for practitioners. If practitioners increase the use of social media platforms in crisis response, these channels can “influence how organizations communicate with the media and the public”. Thus, it is only a matter of time before social media channels take over as the primary mediators of information between an organization and its audiences. Murphy studied the use of organizations employing mixed motive approaches in public relations practice and concluded that mixed motive responses are used during crisis communication as well as strategic communication. According to Weich, most organizational problems lie in how a crisis is handled rather than the crisis itself. Internet use has evolved as an instrument of communication, but little research has been conducted on the use of the Internet in crisis communication. In the first two stages, practitioners made pledges on behalf of the organizations they represent. In this phase, practitioners are expected to act on the promises made or possibly face the threat of losing the trust of their stakeholders. If these promises are not kept in a timely manner, uncertainty may arise. Essentially, an organization can finally initiate the actions that need to be taken to deliver on promises made to stakeholders. Thus, room for detail can be made and the crisis can be resolved effectively, sooner than expected.
The writer is a civil servant by profession, a writer by choice and a motivational speaker by passion!