What are crisis communication methods?
There are a few crisis communication methods for communicating with your various audiences, including employees, management, the public, clients, members, and other involved parties:
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. Keep it simple.
Communicate 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.
Here are some crisis communication techniques to ensure seamless, well-thought-out communications throughout a crisis:
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 crisis communication 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, and take the time to develop consistent key messages. Assemble the team. Have a process for review of information and how it is distributed.
3. Examine 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. Examine protocols: This was glaringly important during the COVID-19 pandemic, but even with COVID being less prevalent now, this is still noteworthy. It’s important to establish processes for communicating news and procedures related to widespread health concerns. 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? These thoughts could also apply to the flu season. and should be considered when reviewing your PTO/sick time policies with the goals to keep employees healthy and to encourage them to stay home if sick. 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 some examples of a crisis?
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. A crisis is a sudden and unexpected disruption that …
Interrupts normal operations
Requires an immediate, coordinated management response
Is likely to require decision-making actions at the highest level of the company
Involves notifying agencies, neighborhoods and/or other outside parties
Has the potential to attract extensive news media and public attention to the company
Internal and external crisis examples could include:
Weather/Nature: Natural disaster, groundwater contamination
Accident: Fire, explosion, chemical spill or release, job site accident
Personnel issue: News event related to employee
Company issue: Crisis at an adjacent facility, product or service failure, layoffs, office closing
Large-scale issue (Surrounding town, state, country, even national or global): Terrorism, pandemic
What are ways to improve crisis management skills?
The best crisis management strategies all have an underlying theme of being prepared. This is the proactive phase of crisis management rather than the reactive phase of crisis management. Successful crisis management includes anticipating and preparing for potential crisis situations. While specific examples of crisis management strategies may not be one-size-fits-all, here are some of our tried-and-true crisis management strategies for businesses.
Assemble a team now
Don’t wait for a crisis to occur. Remember the purpose of a crisis communication plan is to plan ahead. Create a crisis response team with representation from leadership, HR, communications, IT and potentially impacted departments or channels—and assign a role to each team member. Identify subject matter experts, dependent on the crisis scenario, to be spokespersons—and get them media trained.
Cover all bases
Consider all potential crisis scenarios, their potential impact (i.e., local, regional or national, etc.), who should be notified, etc. Make decisions now regarding elements such as: Who is the best person to review things? Who will communicate with which audiences? If one person is unavailable, who will take the role?
Create basic building blocks now to work efficiently later
Create template fact sheets, establish key messages, think of common Q&As and create communications for internal and external audiences (including media) that can be quickly modified for any crisis. Building around your key messages will allow you to respond quickly in a time of crisis. Keeping your plan and your communication simple will optimize understanding and success.
Lean into your brand (and branding) when designing your plan
If you’re unsure where to start, look to your company’s mission statement or core values. Let those guide your plan. As an example, an AOE client designed all of their communication under four different umbrellas: Health of Employees, Health of the Industry, Health of the Company and Health of our Supply Chain. When dealing with a specific crisis, they can address each of those areas and not only cover all of the bases that their audience is used to seeing from them but, in the eyes of their audience, they are being consistent and reliable with the information they provide.
Get everyone involved and in-the-know on the plan. Conduct mock crisis exercises with your team, ideally at least twice a year.
AOE has deep expertise in developing crisis plans and will work with you to help build optimal communications for your employees, clients, customers and other interested parties—no matter what the crisis. For more information, reach out to us today and be sure to visit AOE’s Crisis Communications Microsite.