Monday, May 2, 2016

Communicating during Crises

Over the past few years, we’ve seen several crises capture international headlines, which tugged on the heartstrings of ordinary people like you and me. Here are a few you might instantly recall: The Central American drought, West Africa Ebola outbreak, Nepal earthquake, Syrian refugee crisis, countless airplane crashes and disappearances, violent mass shootings, terrorists attacks, and the list goes on. I find it tiring and emotionally draining to watch it all.  As we recover from one world crisis, it seems as if another hits, and sometimes greater than the last. As a guardian over your company’s brand and also your own professional and personal brand, knowing which issues to respond to and how can be draining as well. Being the first to break a news story may not be in your company’s best interest regarding crises. However, responding with the appropriate words and actions is.  In this column, I provide you with a few quick tips that will help mobilize you to swift and effective action. 

The most important thing to remember is that you must operate from a process during any crises scenario. Process is a series of actions or steps taken to achieve a particular goal.  Your goal during any crisis management scenario is to minimize risk for your company and brand.

  1. Stay ready - Keep a real TV and a social channel tuned to the national and international news. In the days of regular old TV, the public affairs office of any company was normally the meeting place to hear news updates. Today’s meeting place is social media, various websites of news agencies, and even cell-phone alerts through news apps.  Therefore, your customers may hear news even before you do. By keeping your dials set to information sources, you gain the extra time needed activate your communication process for crises.
  2. Check your supply chain for products & services map:  Crises may not hit you, but what about your partners, vendors and suppliers? Mapping out the industries of your vendors and suppliers will uncover any risks you might experience in the event of crises. Risks might include product delays due to logistics; price increases due to lack of supply or the introduction of international trade barriers; or even new industry regulations. Unfortunately staff, executive leadership including board members, advisors or even contractors can also put your company and brand at risk. These ‘what-if’ analyses may never happen, but if they do then you’ll have a process in place to minimize risk.
  3. Launch internal communications - As soon as you know, let your staff know. Brief your entire staff as to what crisis has taken place, and reinforce process in your communication. Your process should always include when to notify direct points of contact for customer questions or press inquiries. Making sure staff knows what to say and do during any crisis is crucial.  It is better to have a primary point of contact for all press and public relations matters. Ensure that your plan includes opportunities for staff status updates. Doing so allows staff at all levels of the organizational structure to report any intelligence they may gain. Include in your process how staff should report their updates and to whom.
  4. Clear plan for external communication with executive leadership, including board members, advisors, and even legal council: What you authorize to be published for public consumption by your company is key to how the public will perceive your response. A widely accepted rule is to communicate early and often. Swift, risk appropriate action is only possible when you have a vetted process in place, and one that has been tested in a few scenarios.  Some crises may require you to communicate “something” within an hour of learning what’s happening, and other crises may provide for at least 24 hours. The longer you take to respond, the worse crises grow. 
  5. Respond. If a crisis is central to your mission, whether or not your brand is directly involved, respond. Your response shows your community that you are tuned in to current events that may affect them, and that you’re watching the scenario to determine how and when to support those directly impacted. If you do make a promise to respond, know your operations and true capabilities first. It’s easy to get caught up in the hype of any major response campaign but your own assets will be on the line for delivering on any promises.  Consider including the following in your crisis response a brief synopsis of what happened, the impact of the scenario, your company’s sincere concern about the scenario, an admission of wrong-doing if your company is at fault, a promise on how your company will attempt to restore normalcy, and a second promise to ensure transparency during the entire communication process.   
  6. Do what you promised:  Your customers and entire business community will be watching to see that you keep your promise, and they may even make business decisions based on the promises your company says it will make. This is your opportunity to under promise and over deliver. 
  7. Monitor, monitor, monitor: Keep an ear and eye out for all things press and customer relations regarding your brand. Whatever you promise may go viral. Set up media alerts to track local national and international press outlets. Make sure your staff and contractors are listening also. Stay connected to online forums, and any online and printed news and content generating agencies. 
  8. Communicate internally and externally how you kept your promise: Once the promise has been made, and is fully in action, communicate it. Once the promise has been fully delivered, communicate that. Once the promise has been out and is circulating throughout any communities impacted, communicate that. If the promise was not effective, communicate that more is needed to restore normalcy to any situations, and that your company will do more until the situation is cured. 
  9. Document the experience: Make sure the entire scenario and flow of how solutions were put in place gets documented. If there were any hiccups, allow your documentation to inform the communication process.  
  10. Track all crises: Once a crisis has ended, keep tracking the impact of it, and your promises made, and how the community feels about what your company did to restore normalcy. Maintain intelligence on all past, present and potential threats to your company and brand. A statement you should always be prepared to make is that “We will continue to monitor the situation.”


Akia (Garnett) Ashmond Brew

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