Sometimes, in business, it is simply impossible to avoid having a crisis unfold. But a company that has a pre-established strategy in place for dealing with crisis situations before they hit will fare much better than those that don’t plan ahead.
Knowing how to act and react in the event of a crisis is important in order to diffuse the situation quickly, safely, and effectively – and get back to business as usual as soon as possible.
If you don’t have a resource or team assigned to effectively map out a plan during a crisis, now is the time to establish one, whether internal staff or an outsourced PR firm. And, as you set that resource to work, here are the initial steps to consider:
- Have a Plan: Above all else, it is essential that there be a plan in place to deal with any sort of issue that may arise. It may become necessary to have several different plans in place based on the nature of the crisis: from natural disaster or a health issue, to criminal or terrorist activity, or other crisis situation. You should have a plan that is clear-cut, easy to follow, and that addresses all possible outcomes to help prevent panic and organize your employees and those around you.
- Know the Facts: Think of the game “Telephone”: an initial message is almost always comically different than what comes through at the end of the game. But in business, it’s not fun and games. A distortion of the facts or message can be extremely costly. You should choose one spokesperson who can relay the facts as accurately, as detailed, and as quickly as possible so that situation assessment can begin immediately. You should find someone who is reliable and has a cool head, and who is not afraid to tell the truth, even when it’s not pleasant.
- Define things on your own terms: Rather than wait for outsiders to pick up on a crisis and put their own spin on it, it is far more effective to be proactive, and break any bad news to employees and news outlets on your own terms. This means you define what gets out, you manage the situation, and you control your own space.
- Communicate across multiple channels: Take the opportunity to talk with every outlet you can. Leverage both traditional and digital news outlets, social media channels, and more, so that you can disseminate your own information on a broad basis. This will also minimize the possibility of anyone reporting incomplete or false information , which can ultimately end up hurting your image and your company.
- Avoid “No Comment”: Even if your statement of “no comment” is intended to help buy more time, the public nearly always equates this sort of message with weakness, or worse yet, guilt. Make sure you are stating the facts and facing the crisis head-on to show that you are in control and ready to move forward.
- Provide Updates: Make sure you are keeping news outlets and media channels regularly updated so that they can relay the truth and the hard facts rather than speculation. This helps to keep the public informed and helps to keep a company from appearing as if they are hiding something.
- Address Mistakes or Unfair Coverage: Allowing for the dissemination of false information is extremely harmful. If you or your company feels that the media is presenting a situation in an unfair light, or if they are not sharing all the facts, do not be afraid to stand up and challenge them.
- Cooperate: Make sure you are working to cooperate with media, authorities, and any others who are covering or handling the situation. This not only ensures the proper response is received from your company, but it also conveys to the public that you are trying to take real steps toward action and resolution of the crisis.
- Use Validators: Validators can help give you credibility and can help speed the process toward crisis resolution. Third parties not involved directly in the crisis itself can also help to fact check and provide impartial information to the public. Examples of validators can be PR firms, external spokespersons, industry allies, and more.
- Stay Appropriately Positive: Even in the worst of crises, it is important to show that progress toward resolution is the main goal and that every step possible is being taken to address the issue at hand.
It’s vital to consider all these tactics, and potentially others, when developing a crisis management plan, so that, whether internally or through a PR agency or representative, the right messages are delivered to the right audiences at the right time. Having a comprehensive crisis management plan can help maintain your company’s credibility, while demonstrating relevancy and transparency, when challenges arise.
Matthew Jonas is the President of TopFire Media, an award winning integrated public relations and digital marketing agency specializing in franchise marketing and consumer branding. Together with the leaders of iFranchise Group and Franchise Dynamics, Matthew established TopFire Media to provide a strategic and synchronized method for digital marketing in the franchise industry.
As a digital marketing strategist with over a decade of in-depth experience in SEO & PPC, social media publishing, conversion based marketing, inbound marketing, sales management, and online lead generation, Matthew has built a career dedicated to delivering an integrated marketing approach that achieves client success and long-term relationships.