In crisis, communicate

Filling puzzle with missing piece

The missing piece of the crisis management jigsaw is so often a communications plan.

It’s what has caused the demise of many CEOs, and some boards, in recent times - the lack of a communications strategy to navigate the reputational aftermath of a critical incident - just think of Dreamworld or Rio Tinto.

It is all too common for a crisis plan to deal with the operational and business response to crisis, but to have no framework for communications. When you are dealing with the fallout of crisis - constant media calls, distraught staff, concerned stakeholders and directors, social media backlash, police or regulatory action - the last thing you want is to be formulating a communications strategy on the fly.

How organisations communicate through crisis has a critical impact on operations, effectiveness and reputation, often with more reputational impact than the triggering incident.

People understand that things go wrong. They want mistakes to be acknowledged, reassurance the consequences are being dealt with and steps are being taken to ensure it won’t happen again.

The first step in crisis recovery is demonstrating you are responding effectively. Messaging should be considered and clear, delivered quickly and effectively to key audiences. For that to happen amid the chaos, pressure and media spotlight requires planning and preparation.

A crisis plan:

- Establishes a team to deal with communications, directly linked to your crisis response.
- Nominates a spokesperson.
- Comes with templates and holding statements ready to be adapted to any incident.
- Identifies key stakeholders, audiences and communications channels.
- Collates after hours contacts for all key individuals, stakeholders and passwords for social media channels.

When crisis hits you must seek to control the message. If you stay silent and leave a vacuum, others will fill it. To keep the media at bay, and hopefully onside, you must become the trusted source of information. The first step is to establish clarity, find the facts and use them to inform your key messaging.

Then communicate quickly and clearly, with timely and accurate messaging. Be proactive, but if you don’t know, say so.

Executing this requires that plan - a plan that is simple, accessible and ideally tested and rehearsed.

Don’t trust luck and think ‘it won’t happen to me’. Nearly seven in 10 business leaders have experienced at least one corporate crisis in the past five years, according to a global survey by PwC.

Pull that crisis plan out of the bottom of the draw and look up communications. If you can’t find it, start working on a new one.

Icon Reputation can help, but if you want some more tips, download our Surviving Crisis ebook.

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