5 PR Pros Share Their Best Crisis Communications Advice

A crisis scenario has the potential to interrupt business and significantly damage the reputation of your organization. Events ranging from unhappy employees to digital security failures are common and put you at risk. Every organization is vulnerable, yet half of U.S. companies don’t have a crisis communications plan.

Effective communication during a crisis can be the difference between a positive outcome and irreparable damage, which is why proper planning is so important.  As with any skill, effective crisis communications requires organizations to prepare and remain sharp. We had five PR professionals answer four questions on this topic. Keep reading to discover how they prepare for a crisis and avoid common pitfalls.

Crisis Communications Advice

 

Paul Larrabee, APR of Corning Place Communications

#1 BEST CRISIS COMMUNICATIONS TIPS

Prepare for the unexpected. Consider compiling key information regarding the organization and its personnel in both hard-copy and digital format. Maintain information off-site if infrastructure or circumstance does not allow immediate access to your traditional work location. Establish communication protocols for internal networks; and public disclosure/transparency.

#2 INCLUDE IN EVERY PLAN

Every crisis mitigation strategy/ plan must recognize that during a crisis you are judged by three straight forward measures: 1) Did you demonstrate competency; 2) Were you responsive to those you serve; and 3) Were your actions reasonable, credible and genuine?

#3 COMMON MISSTEPS DURING A CRISIS

Do not defend the indefensible. In a media relations sense – while matters may be unfolding rapidly, you must avoid speculating. If you are unable to respond credibly and in a fact-based manner – be prepared to decline to comment until you are able to confirm essential facts.

#4 ASSESS YOUR RESPONSE

Return to the key measurement criteria – Competency; Responsiveness and Credibility. A final step may be to ask yourself: “Knowing what I know now, what would I have done differently to better serve my client, company or principal?”

 

Bernardo Fiol-Costa of The Big Think Group

#1 BEST CRISIS COMMUNICATIONS TIPS

Work under the “expect the unexpected” mindset and prepare for all possible scenarios, including being available 24/7 with the understanding that a crisis usually occurs when least you imagine.

 

#2 INCLUDE IN EVERY PLAN

Having pre-approved position papers or statements on possible scenarios is critical for rapid responses and quick turnarounds, especially in the first hours of any crisis, which usually set the tone for how it will unfold.

#3 COMMON MISSTEPS DURING A CRISIS

Unavailability of an adequate, well-versed and credible spokesperson to address the issue.

#4 ASSESS YOUR RESPONSE

Depending on the crisis, but when the media (and audiences) move on to other stories and issues, mission accomplished. Also, doing an internal assessment of the crisis communications plan is always a great exercise to review lessons learned.

 

Stacia Kirby of Kirby Communications

#1 BEST CRISIS COMMUNICATIONS TIPS

Be prepared by conducting a crisis planning exercise. While it is hard to plan for a crisis, as each is different it is wise to run through how a crisis should be handled within your organization. Identify key leadership roles, and how operations, marketing and other departments will interact and take the lead during a crisis. Also identify and run through probable crisis scenarios.

#2 INCLUDE IN EVERY PLAN

Clearly outline the chain of command when a crisis hits. Next, outline the steps for a when a crisis occurs and what steps should be taken. It’s also important to document how to communicate both with internal and external audiences.

#3 COMMON MISSTEPS DURING A CRISIS

No one takes the lead, and those who do default to the mindset of “if we just don’t do anything it will go away.”  Valuable time is lost, allowing rumors and reporting of inaction take place.

#4 ASSESS YOUR RESPONSE

Start with an internal and external communication audit. Talk to staff, not just leaders of the company to get their take on how they felt the scenario played out. Look at external messaging, what was said, how it was handled and looking to the future what can be improved upon.

 

Jeffrey Davis, APR of J. Davis Public Relations

#1 BEST CRISIS COMMUNICATIONS TIPS

Assess your organization’s vulnerabilities and take whatever steps you can to prevent a crisis from happening in the first place. You can’t control weather events and natural disasters, but you can provide training and reminders to possibly head off poor decisions and stupid mistakes.

#2 INCLUDE IN EVERY PLAN

I always recommend having a mobile version of your crisis PR plan that is accessible via smart phone. That hefty 73-page plan in a three-ring binder is helpful, but it’s not much use when “that call” arrives at night, over the weekend or while you are away from the office.

#3 COMMON MISSTEPS DURING A CRISIS

Thinking the media is your most important audience when your internal audiences are extremely important since the public will turn to them for the “real story.” If everyone is on the same page the crisis communications team’s job will be easier.

#4 ASSESS YOUR RESPONSE

First, remember that a crisis is not over until your audience says it is over. Always conduct a post-mortem to go over what worked, what didn’t and then make tweaks to your plan.

 

John Knox of Knox Communications

#1 BEST CRISIS COMMUNICATIONS TIPS

Perform assessment interviews with senior executives to learn who they see as the key audiences to communicate with immediately if the company were to face a crisis. You’ll also want to undercover what the audience views as the best channel(s) for communication. During these interviews, you should understand where the organization might have vulnerabilities or uncover potential crisis scenarios the organization should be prepared for. This is an opportunity to take specific steps to lower the risk of a crisis.

#2 INCLUDE IN EVERY PLAN

Include the names/contact information of all members of the Crisis Communications Team, name of the spokesperson and the names/contact information/communication channel(s) of all key audiences. Your plan should include suggested messaging for all potential crises and a checklist for information dissemination within the first two hours.

#3 COMMON MISSTEPS DURING A CRISIS

Multiple spokespersons, which can lead to conflicting messages. Avoid making inaccurate statements before sufficient facts have been gathered, which can lead to having to clarify earlier comments and endangering the organization’s credibility. Another serious misstep is trying to keep information hidden in hopes “no one will find out,” which can make reporters dig even deeper for anything else the organization might be hiding.

#4 ASSESS YOUR RESPONSE

Evaluate how much media coverage was generated. Relatively little would indicate an effective response. Next, evaluate whether media coverage was positive, negative, or neutral.  It’s also wise to weigh what comments are being made from selected audiences.

Ready to learn more? Find a PR professional in your market today to ensure you’re prepared for the next crisis.

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