Crisis communications: Be ready and have a plan

Shea Anderson
BridgeTower Media Newswires

When it comes to crisis, there are two kinds of companies: Those that have experienced a crisis, and those that are about to.

In the course of business operations, crises take many forms, but some kind of challenge is inevitable.

Then, once the trouble hits, you can see a different bifurcation: Those companies that are ready to communicate effectively during a crisis, and those that aren’t.

Managing a company expertly through a crisis is more than just keeping your head while others are losing theirs. You’re now responsible for relaying essential information, to the right people, efficiently and effectively.

A crisis doesn’t have to be a cataclysmic, wrath-of-God sort of event (although those do happen).
Maybe it’s a workplace accident that shines an unpleasant glare on your safety protocols. Or it’s a computer glitch that shuts down your reservation system, upsetting customers (just ask Delta Airlines what that was like when a power outage scrambled their computers, resulting in the cancellation of 2,000 flights).

Some crises might seem at first glance strictly personal, but their ramifications might go beyond that. Use your imagination. Or just Google “Roger Ailes” and  “sexual harassment” for a look at a very serious internal problem that has become a crippling public firestorm for a very large and visible company.

Some crises are planned events. I once counseled a company whose financial situation demanded a large number of layoffs and the closing of numerous retail outlets. We had the benefit of knowing things were about to happen, but also the anxiety that comes from knowing things were about to happen.

A true crisis really hits its stride when it catches the attention of the media. Whether that media is social, traditional or otherwise, it has the effect of putting your problems under an unwanted bright light.

The point is to be ready, and to have a plan. Think about the ways in which your company might be susceptible to an unfortunate event. Then map out just what might happen, and what the ramifications might be and what the public might see or hear. Don’t kid yourself; word travels faster than you can say, “Twitter.”

With thanks to the storied crisis manager Lanny Davis, my paraphrased rules of crisis communications are fairly straightforward:

Tell the truth. Tell it fast. Tell it first to those affected.

Then, get ready to do that all again.

Think about the people who need to know what’s happening. People in your company or association deserve to know first. Also, they’re going to be helpful ambassadors for you, helping relay essential information during the hubbub. Customers, clients and business partners deserve to be in the loop also.

And although you might not see your company as a media darling, you’ll want to be ready for a sudden surge into the media spotlight.

In all of these conversations, your goal is to be consistent. Work with one set of facts and statements, and return to them often. Keep in mind that the truth is easier to remember.

The goal is to offer as much information as you can, to do it quickly, and to the right audiences. This simplified plan helps you with the other job: solving the problem that is creating all the headaches.


Shea Andersen is vice president at Fahlgren Mortine, an integrated marketing and communications firm with offices in 13 locations nationwide.


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