Access to Accurate Information Will Help Decision Makers Stop a Crisis
Plenty has been written about how digital media has changed crisis communications. That makes sense, because the pace of scrutiny has accelerated with everyone carrying devices that can instantly broadcast video to a worldwide audience. What’s more, digital media creates a platform for people to express outrage, and that backlash can really sting.
That said, the core fundamentals of crisis communications remain unchanged from when I entered public relations more than 20 years ago – and they go back a lot further than that.
Crisis communications is sometimes portrayed as a way to deflect responsibility or explain away a problem. In reality, crisis PR’s most important role is to aid in stopping human suffering and the potential for harm to the community as quickly as possible.
Crisis communications does this by establishing open lines of communication so information can flow to/from those involved in crisis response as well as to/from the communities affected. This free-flowing information aids in decision making and increases the likelihood that available resources can be directed wherever they can have the greatest positive impact.
This is what we at DPK Public Relations mean when we coach organizations to concentrate on doing the right things first. In those first minutes and hours of a crisis, if the organization’s first inclination is to worry about reputation, the risk of long-term harm to the organization will be far greater.
The organization in crisis must take swift and definitive action to bring the problem to an end.
That is not to suggest that no external communication is needed while the crisis is happening. We counsel organizations to have an initial statement ready within 10 minutes that outlines the information known to that point regarding the problem and the response, along with words of compassion for those affected and a pledge to keep the community updated as more is known.
All of this comes to mind after reviewing a brief video from writer Guadalupe Gonzalez of Inc. A former public relations representative, Gonzalez has an uncommonly solid understanding of crisis communications fundamentals. In “Everything You Need to Know to Handle a PR Crisis in Under 2 Minutes,” she simplifies it nicely. Here is a snapshot of her advice along with our thoughts:
Have a plan. A crisis communications plan can help ensure accurate information immediately gets to decision makers, which accelerates effective response and keeps the organization’s actions grounded in its mission and ideals. The reason bad crises get really bad is that they fester due to the organization’s lack of recognition that a crisis is happening. A crisis plan protects against that. I would love to say that we are extremely busy working on dozens of crisis communications plans, but that would be a lie. Usually, organizations think about developing a crisis plan in one of three circumstances:
- In the immediate aftermath of a crisis (whoops!)
- After a near-miss with a crisis (that was close!)
- After a peer organization has experienced a crisis (we better get ready!)
Don’t wait for a crisis to happen before you develop a crisis communications plan!
Know your facts. This is where it helps to have information flowing freely through the organization. There are few things worse in a crisis than realizing after the fact that information you’ve publicly disseminated turns out to be wrong. Once trust is lost, the organization’s reputation is in jeopardy.
Own it. With very few exceptions, it is best for an organization to report its own bad news. This gives you an opportunity to ‘frame’ the story and provide proper context. This inevitably becomes a tussle between public relations and legal counsel. There are ways to work through the natural tensions, especially if organizational leadership can be convinced that everything will eventually be revealed, which it will.
Be human. We have trained thousands of spokespersons over the years and we’ve seen how hard it is for executives to be compassionate. It is far easier to discuss the problem and the response to the problem than it is to say how it feels to know that people are suffering. Showing compassion and acknowledging that people have been affected goes a very long way.
Have one voice. This is another positive outcome of encouraging free-flowing information as described above. In the midst of a crisis and in the aftermath, every person associated with the organization is effectively a spokesperson. They might not formally speak on behalf of the organization or step to the podium at a news conference, but each and every employee is an advocate in his/her respective spheres of influence. Ensure all employees have accurate information and outfit them with Q&As to guide them in conversations. After all, every person with whom they interact is a social media user and can amplify your messages.
To learn more about DPK Public Relations' crisis planning, response and recovery services, visit http://www.dpkpr.com/crisis/. If we can help you, please call 800.596.8708 or complete our contact form at https://www.dpkpr.com/contact/.
Photo by US Air Force.