Communicate: Even if You Don't Have All the Answers
Did you know that 90 percent of crises start as identifiable issues?
And, the majority of these issues can stay categorized as an issue if you have a crisis plan?
AOE has the expertise to help you identify issues, prepare for a crisis and navigate the “what ifs” we are faced with today.
Instead of operating ad hoc during a crisis, commit to put forth the effort to develop a true plan.
Navigating a crisis is something all organizations should prepare for both in terms of organizational and communications plans. AOE has deep expertise in developing crisis plans and will work with your organization to help you build the optimal communications for your employees, customers and other stakeholders.
What is crisis communication?
No matter your organizational structure or offerings, a crisis can occur that requires immediate and constant communication with your employees, stakeholders and even the general public.
We are living in a time of uncertainty with crises seeming to occur almost daily. What is a crisis? A crisis can range from a pandemic and extreme weather occurrences to cyberattacks and more. The inevitability that a crisis will affect your organization is more likely than ever before. In addition, today’s crises are very different than those even a few years ago. They escalate faster, likely have a broader impact and elicit more extreme reactions and demands for real and immediate action.
Enter the importance of crisis communication. Crisis communication, typically a public relations role, is designed to protect and defend a company or organization facing a public challenge to its reputation. AOE is here to help you navigate the various types of crisis communication and find a strategy that will keep your organization prepared for any obstacle.
Now more than ever, the implications of being unprepared for a crisis can have a devastating effect on your organization. It’s never been more important to have a crisis communications plan in place. If you don’t already have one, now is the time to get started.
What are some crisis communication methods?
It happened. With enough time, it was bound to happen. What’s “it?” It could be a data breach. It could be employee misconduct. It could be a tree falling on your office building. Whatever “it” is - it’s a crisis.
Whether it’s big or small, every organization is going to face a public obstacle at some point. Fault or intention is irrelevant. It is something inevitable that you’ll need to deal with. Since people know about it, it needs to be acknowledged. We can’t tell you what you need to do, but we can tell you how to talk about it.
With regard to how often you should communicate, the answer is simple: when you have something meaningful to share. Your crisis team may develop a list of the frequently asked questions you are starting to get so you can evaluate what the key themes should be in your communication.
How do you communicate when there has been a crisis? There are a few main areas of crisis communication channels.
Email (if you have good proper distribution channels in place)
Posting information on your website
Video may be a good option if you have a very large client or member base, make sure you are trained in making such statements. The benefit of a written statement is that you can have many eyes on it before it is distributed. The danger with video is that we tend to over-explain.
Looking to ensure seamless, well-thought out communications throughout a crisis? Here are some key steps to the crisis communications process:
1. Analyze: What has worked well thus far? What lessons learned can you identify that will help guide your efforts moving forward? Take some time to really look at what has and hasn’t worked.
2. Plan: Instead of operating ad hoc, commit to actually creating a plan. Don’t confuse habit (or your recent pattern) with a true planning effort. Identify the team members needed to help you move forward from a decision and communications standpoint, as well as take the time to develop consistent key messages. Assemble the team. Have a process for review of information and how it is distributed.
3. Channels: Consider your channels for distribution. While it is wise to stick with the communication mediums that are tried and true with your target audiences, such as an established and well-vetted email distribution list, does your reach need to expand for this next phase? For example, if you are a building owner and traditionally communicate with a few key tenant representatives, do you need to expand the next phase of communication to everyone in the building and not simply assume the message is distributed?
4. Protocols: If you haven’t already established the process for communicating news and procedures related to COVID-19 as well as return to work, develop them now. Examples include a process for incident reports related to COVID-19, such as who does an employee notify if they have tested positive? What about violations by those not wearing proper protective equipment or using a space that is closed off? After protocols are created, make sure all concerned know both the expectations and ramifications.
Some other key reminders related to crisis communications best practices include:
1. Have a consistent spokesperson(s). Many have found it is helpful to have one person, such as the HR director, handle operational updates, while the president is the author of the more compassionate, human element types of communication.
2. Don’t change your core values, culture or brand at this time. Stick to your key messages. Many organizations have organized their communications under consistent headings or themes, which makes it easy for everyone to locate the information and helps reinforce the key messages.
3. Communicate early and often. Tell your audience when and how you will communicate, and then follow through. Don’t wait to respond until you have all the answers. Acknowledge what you know as well as what you are working on. Transparency is key.
What are examples of crisis communication best practices?
There are several best practices for communicating as an organization during a crisis. What are examples of good crisis communication tactics?
Form a crisis team to focus on navigating challenges.
Keep messaging simple. Unnecessary details could lead to important information being overlooked.
Crisis communication is ongoing. Stress compassion and a commitment to hearing concerns, adapting to this fluid situation and a promise to continue to communicate.
On the other hand, what does bad crisis communication look like? Let’s take a look at a few tips to consider when including your key messages in a crisis communication plan. We won’t tell you exactly what to say, but we do offer some ideas for how and when to best say it.
DON’T wait to respond. DO communicate immediately. Even if you don’t have all the answers, share what you have figured out to let others know you’re aware of the situation and working on it.
DON’T have multiple responses coming from multiple areas of your company. DO have all communication coming from one person - perhaps your HR Director.
DON’T overexplain or comment on rumors or mention politics. DO keep messaging simple and factual. DON’T just tell people what they want to hear.
Crisis Management Planning and Readiness
Consider your organization’s readiness for any given crisis.
How prepared are you if a crisis hits your organization tomorrow?
Do you have an employee notification system in place?
Who will speak for your organization in media interviews during the crisis?
Do you have a crisis communications plan that is regularly exercised, tested and updated?
If your answers are along the lines of, Not very. No. Not sure. Nope. - you’re not alone. Many organizations don’t consider what to do in a crisis until the moment arrives. The purpose of a crisis communication plan is being prepared.
The stages of crisis management begin before there is any crisis at hand (remember, be prepared!) and are ongoing even in the weeks, months, and years following a crisis. Your organization and plan should be ever-evolving and consider your current environment, employees, etc. Completing the following steps will help ensure you are ready for any crisis. They include:
Creating a crisis communication team with representation from leadership, HR, communications, IT and potentially impacted departments or channels—and assigning roles to each team member.
Considering all potential crisis scenarios, their potential impact (i.e., local, national, etc.), who should be notified, etc.
Identifying subject matter experts, dependent on the crisis scenario, to be spokespersons—and getting them media trained.
Creating template fact sheets, key messages, Q & As and communications for internal and external audiences (including media) that can be quickly modified for any crisis.
Conducting mock crisis exercises with your team, ideally at least twice a year.
It’s important to create a “bullet-proof” brand. This does NOT mean protecting misconduct, but rather sharing your values as an organization so that employees, stakeholders and the public know who you are and what they can expect from you. It means that in times of crisis, they trust you to handle things swiftly and with expertise.
A solid brand helps you be consistent with messaging, processes and procedures.
A solid brand has an element of goodwill that should drive actions and reactions.
Consistency brings referrals and increased brand awareness.
Thought leadership and social purpose are key to creating a three-dimensional brand that is strong enough to withstand unexpected crises.
The product is your brand’s body, thought leadership is your brand’s mind, social purpose is your brand’s heart.
Here are some of the other ways that the AOE team can help with your crisis communication:
Establish key messaging to respond to all threats (and keep your crisis from going adrift).
Develop an indestructible PR response: Own it. Explain it. Promise it.
Build a reliable crisis communication plan.
Navigating a crisis is something all organizations should prepare for, both in terms of organizational and communications plans. AOE has deep expertise in developing crisis plans and will work with you to help build the optimal communications for your employees, customers and other stakeholders—no matter what the crisis. For more information, reach out to us today and be sure to visit AOE’s Crisis Communications Microsite.