Blame citizen journalists and the reach of the Internet. The immediacy of Twitter and Facebook. Hell, blame the phases of the moon if that feels right. My point is that in big business (and small business too), crisis communication situations are inevitable. Data hacks, dark accusations, foreign financial crises, shooting sprees, fires, and unpredictable politicians going rogue on social media. No brand or industry is immune.
But it doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom. In times of crisis, difficult and important decisions will need to be made, ready or not. Which is why it’s essential to have the right team and practices in place.
Very rarely can you predict a crisis. But you can choose to be prepared. When the seas are calm, take that time to create a dark site, which can be populated with key messages and made public when needed. Put together a media contact list and build connections with reporters that will prove beneficial later on.
Fire drills are only effective if they’re practiced. Have your company go through pseudo crises regularly. Who will be calling the IT person? Who will update the media? The goal is to make the game-time process second nature. (Note: if you don’t have a team trained in crisis communication, no worries. Just be prepared to call in the experts and get out of the way).
Be in control
When a crisis rears its ugly head, you have no choice but to act. Mobilize the troops immediately and gain control of the situation. Gather the facts, pull your templates, and work to get ahead of the story. As PR pro Lanny Davis says, “Tell it all, tell it early, tell it yourself.”
Arguing around a conference table for too long can result in wandering minds and fabricated stories fed by rumors and public perception. Without action and control, before you know it your audience will turn on you, your partners will cut ties, and you will be the villain in the public’s eye.
“Twitter makes it possible for a public official to create a round-the-clock press conference, simultaneously informing their staff, the public and the press.” –Andrew Rasiej, Founder of the Personal Democracy Forum
We live in a world of 24/7 news, blogs, tweets, status updates, and niche-media. Which means we have days, not weeks, to address the issue. Use this to your advantage. Social media can be valuable for crisis communication, especially when it comes to communicating directly with reporters who will ultimately frame the story. Just remember to keep it civilized and keep it brief.
Be honest + empathetic
The worst thing you can do is to attempt to shift the blame onto someone else. Own up and take responsibility. Don’t be afraid or reluctant to face the publics or the ones you’ve wronged the most. Instead, show proper respect and speak to involved parties first and foremost.
Once the burn begins to heal, take a breath, have a drink. Go on vacation. And be sure to learn from what happened—not just with your company, but also with others in their times of crisis. Make adjustments to your crisis communication plans and teams as needed.
And don’t forget to think about the future. Ask yourself “What does this open up for us?” Try to focus on the opportunity that can come from the threat. Over time, you will be able to rebuild your brand if you keep a positive voice and place yourself in the public eye for the good you are doing, not the bad that has been done.
Pivot’s crisis communication work
Our firm principal has spent the last decade navigating the seas of crisis communication, helping big travel clients, like Royal Caribbean International and The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism, and smaller destinations and non-profits like Bloomington and Near East Area Renewal (NEAR) in Indianapolis work their way out of some tough situations. If you or your organization find yourself in a bind, don’t hesitate to give her a ring.