Prepare for the Best and Worst of Times

Every organization, big or small, at some point will deal with a crisis–internal or external. Companies must have a standard operating procedure for dealing with such scenarios, because when it happens, responsiveness is key.

Just as you would train a spokesperson and plan for good news, such as a new product launch, you need a “go to” plan for when unpredictable scenarios arise and the news isn’t “good.”

Public relations planner, Jack Wang, has over a decade of experience in public relations, in addition to 13 years as a television news reporter. He has seen and experienced both sides of a crisis and shares his best practices for proactive and effective crisis management:

1.    Prepare for the crisis

Have a crisis communications plan written ahead of time. The plan needs to include contact information for the communications team and the local media. Develop potential crisis scenarios. Have a list of key publics. The plan needs to include speaking points for designated types of crises.  Hold mock crises before an actual event happens. Keep in mind how any crisis may impact your stakeholders, especially since they may include your customers.

2.    Respond to the crisis within the first hour

This may not always be practical given the circumstances, but if an organization can at least acknowledge what has occurred quickly in a statement, it can lessen the onslaught of media inquiries. Even if the facts are still unfolding, a simple concise statement can help. Tell the public the organization is aware of the problem and is working on a solution. An initial statement shouldn’t promise a timeline if you’re not sure of it. If the resolution isn’t imminent, let your stakeholders know.

3.    Get buy-in

Make sure every major player within your organization understands and agrees with the plan ahead of time. Having a united front with all the key members of the organization will help in dealing with and resolving the crisis.

4.    Have a designated spokesperson

The buy-in becomes of major importance to the designated spokesperson. The spokesperson may be the CEO, director or someone from the communications department. Make sure the designated person(s) have had media training, a briefing on the crisis and are prepared with key messages.

5.    Apologize if necessary

If the crisis was caused by an error by your organization, acknowledge the mistake. Explain the situation and how the error will be fixed. Show sympathy to the impact the error caused to the customer/stakeholder.

6.    Transparency is key

Realize that any internal memo about the crisis may end up in the hands of the media, so be willing to share with the public the same information you share with your employees.

7.    Be at the location of the crisis, if possible

If the crisis has occurred at a site away from the CEO or communications office, have the spokesperson go to the scene. It is better to disseminate the information or hold the news conference near the scene, rather than at the corporate office. In the case of a tragic loss, don’t hold your news conference with the visual of that loss directly behind your spokesperson in the background. It will remind viewers and your stakeholders of the incident. Have your conference on location, but away from the immediate scene, if possible.

8.    Use all of your forms of communications

Handle a crisis using email, Websites, blogs, social media, news releases and press conferences. On all fronts be efficient and keep your message clear, consistent and concise–an official statement to all media.

9.    Monitor all media in real-time

Monitor the broadcasted reports and social media comments. Be aware of what they’re saying and the source. The monitoring becomes especially important if your company faces possible lawsuits because of the crisis.

10.  Open your crisis communications center, if necessary

If the crisis appears to be an ongoing situation, prepare for the activation of your crisis communications center. Have a list of the crisis communications center procedures on hand. Have additional copies of the crisis communications plan available at the center for your staff for reference.

11.  Debrief after the crisis is over

Have a comprehensive review after the crisis has passed. What did you learn? What did the organization do well? What didn’t the organization do well? What improvements can be made?

The most important thing organizations need to keep in mind about a crisis is that people remember how a crisis was handled longer than the actual crisis itself. Just like any situation in life, responsive, clear and consistent communication is key to sustaining trust, even when something unexpected happens.