Crisis Communications: Disasters Happen. Nightmares Don't Have To.
Whether it's a tragic event, as in the Penn State sex abuse allegations; a brain freeze, such as those that happened over the past several weeks to two aspiring presidential candidates; or, as was recently reported, a highly competitive industry fighting allegations that arsenic has been found in apple juice, none of us is immune from facing a crisis situation. Regardless of the nature of the crisis or whether it originated through TV, print, Twitter or Facebook, the damage can be instantaneous.
There is no waiting in this age of immediate engagement. Information is delivered faster than you can say, "Oops, I think I stepped in it." So addressing the problem or issue quickly (if not faster) is critical. Having a crisis management plan in place will not necessarily save you from negative fallout, but it can help minimize the damage.
Here are some key items you will want to include in your plan:
- Your team: identify the key people in your organization who will be responsible for handling the crisis. List their cell phone numbers and who their backups are if they cannot be reached.
- Specific roles of each team member: whether it's assessing the information being sent through social media channels, serving as the spokesperson responding to media questions (or better yet, proactively contacting media representatives to discuss the situation); providing the legal expertise that may be needed, or drafting the necessary appropriate responses, having the right team in place can make all the difference.
- Your audiences – internal and external. It's essential that you proactively communicate with all of your audiences. Your employees, the company's board of directors and other stakeholders are as important, if not more so, than the outside world. If they feel they are being provided with honest information, they can be your strongest supporters in a crisis.
- A list of key people you need to contact: Have your client's and vendor's most updated information readily accessible – addresses, phone numbers and key contact names.
- A list of potential communication vehicles. If you wait to organize this list while you are in crisis mode, there's a very good chance you will miss something important.
Finally, when communicating, make sure the information you're providing is accurate. Don't speculate and don't blame. Acknowledge what you don't know and then find the answers and respond. Don't hide anything. Be upfront and honest. Remember, credibility is your most important asset.
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