Every organization should have a crisis communication plan in place before a crisis happens. Putting out fires while trying to figure out the basics of who is responsible for what and when adds extra stress to a situation that is already critical. Bad things happen to good people and businesses, and the way a crisis is handled doesn’t just have an impact on your organization’s public perception, it can also have an impact on whether your business survives.
Each situation needs to be handled differently. However, having a framework in place will make putting out each fire more manageable. Being proactive will save time, energy and mental bandwidth during a crisis, helping to ensure nothing is missed and you come out on the other side with your brand intact.
Build Your Reputation
Building a brand takes more than having a good product or service. Being active on social media, positioning executives as thought leaders and telling your story through earned media can build goodwill with the public. Invest in your people and your culture and show the public you aren’t just another faceless company. Appeal to your stakeholders–employees, shareholders and customers–in a way they can relate to, and use your executives to build that up. You can’t create authenticity and trust with the public during a crisis. Building up your “armor” and creating a positive reputation with the public will help protect you during a crisis.
Know When and How To Respond
When a crisis hits, you have one chance to get it right. Whether your strategy is proactive or reactive will depend on several factors–most importantly, what are the chances that the situation will become public? A criminal situation, major company changes or a build-up of complaints or comments online could catch the attention of the media. Some situations are easier to predict than others. If there’s a likelihood that the public and your stakeholders are going to catch wind of it, we recommend you prepare your strategy and message and get it out before others have a chance to tell your story for you.
Think of the businesses you’ve seen over the years that are embroiled in a crisis: Pepsi’s controversial commercial with Kendall Jenner, a Nike shoe falling apart on a star basketball player in a big game, KFC famously running out of chicken. While each situation had the chance to take down these big brands, each company reacted immediately with the two most important pieces of any crisis communication: an apology and corrective action. It certainly helped that these brands have also been proactive in building brand loyalty that acted as armor during times of crisis.
Plan Your Response
The biggest difference between being proactive or reactive is weighing the risk of the situation becoming public. While timeliness is imperative in a crisis, rushing to respond can do even more damage. Sometimes you have to let a situation play out while you take time to gather the facts and put a plan in place so you are ready to respond when the time is right. Knowing how you’ll react will put you a step ahead of the game instead of being surprised when the media or public comes calling.
Consider Outside Counsel
If you don’t already work with an external communications firm, now is the time to start thinking about it. Emotions are high in any crisis situation and can make it difficult to think objectively. Having a strategic advisor and an outside perspective that can see the bigger picture and offer a different perspective is critical in building messaging that will resonate with stakeholders and the public. Having a team of experts you can rely on who are already familiar with your company and understand your messaging will make it easier to build an effective and authentic crisis response.
Navigating a crisis starts before the situation ever begins. Build armor for your brand now to ensure your organization’s livelihood is protected well into the future. And while you’re preparing for the worst, plan for the best possible outcome so you’re not worried about each little thing when a difficult situation does arise.