research suggests that many organisations do not have an up-to-date plan in place that deals with crises from both an operational and communications perspectiveStrikes, product contamination threats, natural disasters, factory process faults, computer melt-downs, share market jitters, even the death or severe illness of a CEO – crises can strike any organisation, anywhere, anytime. The last few months have seen a proliferation of crisis situations, from the floods in Queensland to the ill-advised comments of NSW media hosts. Even if the crisis is not your fault, the hard work done to build up the reputation of an organisation and consumer confidence can evaporate almost instantly when bad times hit.
As one crisis guru said, “All companies have problems, but when the media gets hold of them, they can become overwhelming crises”. And as we all know, the media likes to play judge and censor, adding fuel to the crisis fire if it smells a good story.
Tips on crisis management
So how do you avoid a crisis? There is no silver bullet strategy to crisis avoidance, however, experience suggests that you can minimise the potential for crisis situations by deploying the following strategies:
1. Conduct a communications and crisis audit of your organisation
You will only understand the threats your business faces if you look at every department, every process and examine what could go wrong. Are you understaffed, have you taken short cuts in safety measures, is your product or service about to become obsolete due to the introduction of new technology? Look at every contingency in-depth.
2. Write a crisis plan
Sounds simple, doesn’t it? However, research suggests that many organisations do not have an up-to-date plan in place that deals with crises from both an operational and communications perspective. The crisis plan should carefully examine the risk areas identified by the crisis audit, nominate a crisis team and be as detailed as possible on the handling of these crisis scenarios from a technical and operational perspective. Similarly, the communications plan should cover both traditional and social media, clearly communicating information and how this will be translated into all media platforms.
3. Remember all your audiences
If a crisis hits, you will need to inform a great many people in a variety of ways. The way you address government may be very different to the way you communicate with the media or your customers. During your planning phase, make sure you know who those people are, what messages they need to hear and the right medium for communicating to them. Don’t forget to keep your staff informed: you don’t want them to find out about the crisis from a third party such as a tabloid journalist.
4. Be ruthless when selecting a spokesperson
Preparing for a crisis means selecting a spokesperson who will best represent your company’s interests. Your spokesperson must feel comfortable handling questions from the media, potentially angry or aggrieved customers, the enquiries of government or other special interest groups, and come across as empathetic and informed. Although it is often the CEO of an organisation who takes this role, make sure he/she is ready to do so, with adequate media and presentation training under their belt. Any CEO who panics or comes across as flippant or arrogant must be immediately replaced by someone who can convey the calm, concerned face of the organization.Your spokesperson must feel comfortable handling questions from stakeholders, and come across as empathetic and informed
5. Invest in crisis simulation training
The more prepared you are to face a crisis, the easier you will survive it. Professional PR or training companies who run crisis simulation programmes are worth investigating. You will be put through the wringer in a day of unmitigated disaster (literally!), but you will emerge the stronger for it. These programmes, which are usually tailor-made for your organization, are like an insurance policy against disaster and immensely beneficial.
Have you been involved in crisis management in your business? What issues did you encounter? What are your crisis management techniques? Share you story…
Dina Ross is Public Relations Director at Evergreen Advertising & Marketing in Melbourne, Australia, specialists in communicating to the 50+ market. A PR and crisis communications expert, she has held senior editorial postions at BBC UK and The Age , headed her own award-winning PR consultancy and is the author of “Surviving the Media Jungle”, a guide to PR. Melbourne, Australia.
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