Arguably the worst nightmare for a CEO, save from his company going bankrupt, is for his firm to be involved in any sort of crisis. We’ve seen it countless of times before, with some of the more notorious scandals happening in 2001 with Enron, Lehman Brothers in 2008, and most recently, Volkswagen. Those cases of corporate scandals can put to test even the most experienced or renowned crisis PR expert.
It is thus important to have a strategy of communication during a crisis. A crisis communication program may not be something that corporate communicators are inclined to implement for obvious reasons, but disasters can strike and ruin an organization’s image in the process. In case an unfortunate thing happens to your company, you at least have a plan to fall back on in managing the crisis and minimizing the negative impact to your organization’s operations.
Here are some critical steps in crafting a strategy of communication during a crisis:
1. Identify your crisis communications group.
The crisis communications group of a company should consist of a small crew of senior executives, ideally lead by the company CEO. Usually, the head honcho is joined by the top PR executive and the legal counsel. If the in-house PR head doesn’t have much experience in crisis communications, hiring an independent consultant or even an agency with that specialty should be considered.
2. Assign a spokesperson.
The crisis communications crew should then assign a spokesperson who will be representing the company. The ideal spokesperson must have the right skills and training to be the voice and face of the company during a difficult time.
While the CEO may be the usual choice owing to his position, it should be noted too that not all chief executives are effective in-person communicators. Thus, it is recommended that the members of the crisis communications group be trained in advance on the various facets of crisis communication. The decision on who will speak in behalf of the company will only be made once the crisis breaks.
3. Know your stakeholders.
Identify the internal and external stakeholders that are important to the organization. Internally, you have your officers and employees. Externally, you have clients, suppliers, funding partners, and regulators. Remember that your stakeholders, your employees in particular, can be a PR representative and crisis management for your organization. Thus you must be able to relay to them the key messages that you would want them to repeat elsewhere.
4. Develop key messages.
Although a full message will only be formulated during an actual crisis, it is recommended that the crisis communications team develop holding statements in advance so that these can be used immediately after a crisis breaks.
For example, a hotel chain that was hit by natural disaster can have holding messages sent out to the media even before it can get hard, factual information. The company may say that it has implemented a crisis response plan which places high priority on the health and safety of guests and staff.
In the event of an actual crisis, the crisis communications team can use these holding statements as a starting point in developing crisis-specific messages. During a crisis, the team already knows the type of information that their stakeholders are looking for.
In formulating the key messages, the crisis communications team should keep it simple. Three core messages should be enough for all stakeholders to know.
5. Post-crisis analysis.
The last part of a strategy of communication for crisis is to analyze what was done right or wrong during the emergency. A post-crisis analysis will give the communications team, and not just the crisis communications group, a lot of inputs on how to fine-tune their strategy of communication during a crisis.