Answering one question will streamline your crisis communication planning

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February 21, 2023

“What would reasonable people appropriately expect a responsible organization to do in this situation?”

This question serves as the bedrock of crisis communications planning. Picked up from a crisis communication certification program offered through the Public Relations Society of America, this question should be asked when we embark on any kind of communications planning. In fact, I have it on a sticky note at my desk and reference every single day.

From travel and tourism to resource development to nonprofits, every single organization will benefit from creating a plan to mitigate risk and maintain trust. Because nearly every potential crisis an organization may face can be predicted to a certain point, crisis communication planning is a valuable opportunity to plan ahead.

There is a foundational strategy in crisis: Provide a timely demonstration that you care and persistently demonstrate that you still care for as long as that expectation exists. As long as stakeholders expect you to care, you need to continue to show it.

Failing to meet stakeholders’ expectations is the No. 1cause of harm in a crisis. It is also one of the simplest ones to avoid because it is typically self-inflicted. Organizations are in charge of how they conduct themselves, and organizations — at all times — should demonstrate that they care.

No matter the situation or the industry, organizations need to show compassion and understanding not only for consumers but for their internal audience, and it is up to communicators to make sure that is conveyed in a way that resonates with people.  

As you dust off that crisis communications plan (or reach out to T&C for more information on crafting one for your organization!),here are some simple tips and strategies to increase effectiveness:

  • Establish clear roles and responsibilities. Who on your team plays which vital roles when it comes to a crisis? This team selected should bring calm, confidence and clarity during any kind of situation.
  • Silence is not golden. Organizations can be seen as indifferent when they do not appropriately respond. This allows critics/adversaries to define the crisis, your motives and your actions.
  • Show that you care. Apathy is toxic. Demonstrate empathy and compassion to maintain trust. It is much more difficult to regain lost trust than to maintain it.
  • Holding statements are valuable tools. Because we can predict the majority of crises an organization may be involved in, the opportunity to strategically draft individualized statements ahead of a crisis allows for quick, concise and thoughtful responses as a crisis develops.
  • Don’t ignore your stakeholders on social media. Social media is a direct channel to organizations, and organizations should always respond to reasonable stakeholders’ concerns. Holding statements for use on social media should also be considered when crisis planning because a faster response shows compassion and concern. Humanize your voice and don’t take too long to respond — we recommend doing so within six hours.

Crisis communications management is the management of choices. How you choose determines the outcome. When it comes down to it, though, the worst choice you can make is to not be prepared.

- Bri Kelly

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