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Crisis Communication definition


Crisis Communication (© boonchok / fototlia.com)

Crisis Communication (© boonchok / fototlia.com)

No matter how much they try to avoid them, all organizations and brands are vulnerable to crises. Running away from a crisis when it strikes will make matters worse. Being proactive is the only way to handle the problem. Having an effective communication plan in place and executing that plan is the only way to successfully rise above when a crisis strikes. Crisis communication is a party of the crisis management.

Definition of a Crisis

Crisis is defined as any situation that threatens or has the potential to threaten to do harm; a time when hard and/or important decisions need to be made.

Even the most influential establishments are susceptible to a crisis situation. Though your first reaction may be to run, hide and wait to reemerge until the problem disappears, the simple truth is that your stakeholders and the public at large aren’t going to be very understanding or forgiving if you do. They’ve seen how that type of reaction has impacted important organizations and brands in the past (does Lance Armstrong or Volkswagen ring a bell?)

If you aren’t prepared for a crisis, it’s a safe bet that you’re going to suffer severe damage. One of the biggest reasons why establishments and brands fall victim of crises is because they don’t have an effective crisis communication plan in place.

A crisis communication plan is intended to safeguard and support a person, a company, a brand or an organization that is facing a public dispute that could potentially damage a reputation. Without a plan in place, the outcome of a crisis will be similar to a domino effect:

  • There will be a breakdown in operational response
  • Stakeholders will  be taken off guard and will rapidly become puzzled, mad and in turn, will react negatively.
  • The company, organization or individual will be viewed as being incompetent, or worse, negligent.
  • Fully resolving the matter will be substantially delayed.
  • There will be a severe negative impact on reputation, which in turn, will impact the financial bottom line.

The fundamentals of an effective crisis communication plan aren’t very difficult, but they do necessitate hard work if they are going to reduce damage. If you want to make sure that you are prepared for and ready to respond to a crisis, here’s a look at 10 essential steps for crisis communication that you need to employ.

10 Critical Crisis Communication Steps

By putting the following 10 steps into effect, you will be able to handle crisis communication like a PR pro.

Foresee A Crisis

Crises are practically unavoidable. They can impact even the most trusted, well-established companies, organizations and individuals. If you don’t anticipate them, you aren’t going to be prepared to handle them when they strike. Being proactive and preparing for a crisis is crucial to effectively handling the situation when one does occur.

Look into the future and predict any potential crises that could potentially occur. In some cases, you know when a crisis is going to occur because you are planning on creating one; making a big acquisition or laying off a handful of employees, for example. In other cases, it’s might be difficult to determine what type of crises could happen. Take a look at any and all aspects that could potentially spell a disaster. For instance, a celebrity that you represent is going to a red carpet event that someone that he or she has had issues with past will also be attending.

By predicting a crisis before it arrives, you will be able to put a plan of action in place to effectively handle a problem, should one arise. Of course, if a crises does not occur, it’s still far better to be prepared to handle it than find that one does strike and end up being caught like a deer in the headlights.

Fully Assess the Problem

In the event that a crisis does arise, make sure that you fully assess it before addressing the public. Analyze the issue and determine exactly what type of impact it will have on the organization, company or individual. What are the potential repercussions? How will the public react? How will stakeholders react?

It’s important to assess any and all potential issues that could arise as a result of a crisis. Don’t overlook anything. Make sure that you fully understand what type of damage the situation could do to a reputation and to the financial bottom line.

Have the Right Spokesperson

Make sure that you select the right spokesperson to communicate with the media and address the crisis. The individual should be poised, articulate and keep his or her cool under pressure. Make sure that the spokesperson is properly prepared before addressing the public. Training will help the individual gauge how to respond to questions; both those that are expected and those that aren’t.

The spokesperson is acting on behalf of the company, organization or individual. Choosing someone who represents the core values of the company, organization or individual is crucial. Make sure that he or she is well-vetted, is completely on-board, and fully understands how to handle the gravity of communicating a crisis on behalf of whomever he or she is representing.

Know how to Handle Media Requests

Responding to the media in a timely manner is crucial in the event of a crisis. Even if you don’t have yet to find all the answers, it’s far better to acknowledge a crisis has occurred and that it will take time to find out all of the details in as quickly as possible. This will allow the media – and the public at large – to know that you are aware that there is an issue and that you are collecting all of the fact, not ignoring the situation or their questions.

In order to help make the process of responding to the media as efficient as possible and ensure that the message is clear and consistent, make sure all privy parties know exactly where to direct all calls from the media.

openPR-Tip: With all of that said, however, it’s also important that you don’t rush to response. Make sure that all of the facts that you currently have – even if it’s not all of them – are verified. Also, make sure that you take the time to let all key stakeholders (investors, employees, etc) know that there is a crisis and that you are going to respond to it before they see your response on the news.

Focus on All Audiences

When a crisis arises, it is very rare that you will be addressing a single audience. As such, addressing a single audience could cause serious issues. Many people focus their attention on addressing a single audience – their targeted audience – when a crisis strikes, and that’s a big mistake. Believe it or not, your targeted audience isn’t the only group of people that wants to hear your response to a crisis.

Not addressing all audiences could have dangerous repercussions. For example, it could make it seem like you aren’t taking all parties that could be impacted by the situation into consideration, which could do serious damage to your reputation. Identifying all of your audiences ahead of time is a vital part of effective crisis communication. Make sure that you have an explicit plan of action in place regarding how you will communicate with each audience before you address the public.

Establish Reasonable Goals

Before a crisis strikes, make sure that you establish reasonable crisis communication goals. It’s hard to gain perspective when you’re in the middle of a crisis, which is why it’s important to establish goals ahead of time. What do you want to achieve through your crisis communication efforts? For example, do you want to educate the public about wrongdoing to repair a damaged reputation?

Though you won’t know the exact extent of the damage that a crisis will cause before one does occur, it’s important to establish reasonable goals ahead of time. Doing so will allow you to focus on what you hope to achieve through crisis communication.

Establish and Utilize Clear Objectives

Once you’ve determined reasonable goals, you are going to want to determine what your key objectives will be. Often, goals and objectives are confused. Your goals are the outcome that you hope to achieve; your objectives are the explicit, time-sensitive efforts that support your goals. Objectives are attainable. When a crisis occurs, having established objectives and using them are crucial to your cause.

Your objectives should focus on the attitudes and perceptions of the key stakeholders; those who will be impacted by the crisis the most.

Use Social Media to Your Advantage

In today’s day and age, it’s important to leverage social media. In the event of a crisis, social media is an excellent platform to communicate with the public.

Social media allows you to find out exactly what people are saying and how they are reacting to a crisis, and it allows you to see that information quickly. Not only can you see what your followers are saying, but you can also find out what your influencers are saying across the board. You could find a potential crisis in the making and solve the problem by proactively addressing the issue before it erupts.

Make sure that you listen to what people are saying and respond appropriately. Share real-time updates via your social media statuses. By doing so, you will be able to assure the public that you are aware of any issues, and more importantly, that you are working on finding a way to resolve those issues. Using social media for crisis communication effort is an excellent way to stay proactive and ahead of any issues that could arise.

Set Up Notification and Monitoring Systems

It used to be that the only way to quickly reach others was via a single phone line or a fax number, and the other party had to be there to receive the phone call or fax. Things have seriously changed today. Having the means to immediately reach out to both internal and external stakeholders via multiple means of communication is vital. Most people have multiple phone numbers, several email addresses, and can receive text messages, faxes and social media updates. Audio and video messages can even be sent.

All of these modes of communication are fast ways to connect with stakeholders. Make sure that you are aware of all of these means of communication and how to get in touch with the most important parties prior to the development of a crisis. When a situation arises, you’ll know exactly how to get in touch with your stakeholders in the fastest way possible.

You should also monitor all feedback when a crisis situation develops. Doing so will allow you to properly adapt your strategy and your tactics. Your monitoring system should be set up ahead of time. Make sure that you have all of your devices ready to receive alerts via the various communication platforms; phone calls, emails, social media, etc. By setting up your monitoring systems ahead of time, you will receive notifications and respond to inquiries in a timely manner.

Conduct a Post-Crisis Assessment

Once the news of the crisis has settled down and the air has seemed to clear a bit, take the time to analysis the effects of the situation. Find out what important lessons it taught you; what you gained from it.

When you’re in the midst of a crisis, it can be difficult to see that there are any benefits, but believe it or a not, a crisis teaches valuable lessons. It’s a learning opportunity. It could teach you how to avoid similar situations in the future, or how to better respond to a crisis, for example. Analyzing a crisis after the fact is an important part of effective crisis communication efforts.

openPR-Tip: Being prepared for a crisis before it occurs is crucial to effectively handling one. Knowing what to do and how to respond will allow you to properly maintain any issues that arise so that you the damage is as minimal as possible.

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