We’ve been talking with most clients this week about responding to the coronavirus situation, so this seems like an opportune time to share some guidance on crisis communications.
What constitutes a crisis? Any situation that could harm people or property, seriously interrupt your business, significantly damage your reputation or cause substantial financial losses (for you or your customers or clients). A crisis could stem from your enterprise’s actions or products, actions of partners, public allegations or major upheavals like the coronavirus and natural disasters.
Whatever the source, a crisis is always easier to face effectively—and with less anxiety—if you have a communications plan. Here are our core crisis communications guidelines, along with tips on creating and executing a plan.
Guidelines for effective crisis communications
- Be transparent and honest.
- Stay ahead of the story as much as possible; don’t be reactive.
- Start communicating as soon as possible (when you have something to say).
- Find out everything you can about the problem, including what caused it. Every crisis communications team member needs to know everything.
- Keep employees informed. Strive for them to hear about an issue before it’s public and to know when you’ll be making public statements.
- Let employees know what they can and cannot say.
- Don’t be defensive, say “no comment” or get angry (in public, anyway).
- Reporters (and everyone else) want facts. Make sure everyone who speaks has the facts and presents them accurately.
- Don’t let anyone (especially the media) pressure you into speculating if you don’t yet know all the facts, or into guessing at someone else’s motivations.
Creating your crisis plan
- Define what constitutes a crisis for your organization and develop potential responses to various scenarios, including worst-case scenarios.
- List stakeholder groups, both internal and external. Note what information they will need and how to communicate with them.
- Identify the crisis communications team and define roles.
- Spell out a careful but efficient process for gathering and disseminating information. You can’t be too detailed—communications will break down if you can’t get information out quickly.
- Identify spokespeople, brief them fully, and make sure they understand the process.
- Outline a media outreach plan. Define how you will use and monitor all channels. Note the journalists you know—you’ll want to contact them first.
When a crisis happens
- Activate your team.
- Assess the situation. What does your business need to do? What do you need to communicate about that?
- Develop “holding” statements—what you can say if you don’t have all the information you need or don’t know how you will remedy the situation.
- Develop key messages and talking points.
- Brief spokespeople.
- Follow your crisis PR plan.