At its core, crisis communication is simply very good communication done very quickly. Communicating during a crisis can be difficult. All the facts may not be known, emotions can run high and your organization may be the subject of intense public scrutiny. There’s a lot coming at you and time is of the essence. To deal effectively with the situation, you must be prepared, professional and proactive.
Maintain employee and public confidence in the org and its operations
Be honest and truthful
Be visible and concerned
Speak with one clear voice
What constitutes a crisis?
80% of crises could have been anticipated. Most develop over time from issues left unaddressed.
A crisis is any incident that can potentially create significant controversy or negative public opinion and can adversely affect your ability to function in its normal fashion.
A crisis does not necessarily involve a disaster – a fire at a facility, or a crime committed by an employee or a client – although these situations clearly constitute an organizational crisis.
Most crises are not of an immediate nature. In fact research has found that 80% of crises could have been anticipated. Most crises develop over time, primarily from issues left unattended.
This facet of organizational management – issues anticipation – is your most valuable tool in crisis management. It is always easier and cheaper to keep yourself out of a hole than it is to dig yourself out once you’ve fallen into one.
As a matter of fact, the master public relations practitioner is measured by how well he or she helps an organization keep out of trouble – rather than how well he or she helps it to recover.
Most crises are not of an immediate nature. They develop over time, building from an unattended issue into a situation that threatens your reputation. When an issue begins to simmer, individual dept. heads and managers should build a team to head off the crisis, or at least plan for the possibility of that crisis.
The psychology of a crisis
You may not have thought of it this way, but the news media gives away “news” and sells “advertising.”
Advertising is driven by readership, viewership or listenership. Research has proven that as readers, viewers, and listeners, you and I prefer to consume bad news over good news by a 7 to 1 margin.
In short, bad news sells advertising by attracting viewers – which attracts advertisers – better than good news does. That’s why bad news is so highly overrepresented in the media.
A crisis at your org is bad news.
Bad news involves conflict, mythology and stereotypes. The most basic conflict storyline is “good” versus “evil.”
Americans are cynical, but it’s human nature to forgive whenever possible. We need and seek closure on issues.
That’s why the best crisis strategy for your organization is that if you are at fault, own up to it and move on. If your organization is going to take a bath in the news media, its best to get clean the first time. By doing so, you’ll have a better shot at maintaining trust in your organization and among your key audiences.
If you are at fault and don’t come clean, reach closure and ask for forgiveness, the news media and the public will keep after you until you do.
One-day crises are reputational speed bumps. A crisis that drags out for weeks or months can cost your organization the trust of its key constituencies and your CEO his or her job.
That’s why it’s important to handle crisis professionally and proactively.
It’s also important not to overreact to a minor crisis, blow it out of proportion and draw undue attention to it. This requires objectivity which is difficult to maintain if you are under attack or the subject of criticism.
When trying to gauge the severity of a crisis and therefore your response to it, it can be useful to sound out people you trust who are further removed from it than you are. Board members, experienced executives at other outside communication counsel can be helpful in this regard.