Nobody wants to be in a crisis but in reality, it can and does happen. And if prevention efforts have failed, the next best thing you can do is deal with the crisis in the most effective way possible. Regardless of the incident, if you have a crisis communications plan it will help you to deal with the crisis quickly and efficiently, therefore limiting the damage to your company’s good name, your customers and your shareholders.
As a tech PR agency, we have helped many of our clients to develop their crisis communications plans and have learned some best practices along the way. Here are our top seven tips for a successful crisis communications plan:
1. Have a plan: failing to prepare is preparing to fail!
As we have seen recently (PwC and United Airlines, we’re looking at you) no company is immune to disaster and it is absolutely essential to have a crisis plan in place – and know it. You and everyone in your organisation needs to know that plan inside-out. Don’t let your crisis communications plan sit in a drawer or on a shelf to gather dust. Review it every six to 12 months and update and adapt the plan as your organisation evolves and grows.
2. Devising the plan
Your tech PR agency can help you to come up with a solid, comprehensive and workable plan. They will sit down with your management team and brainstorm potential crises, what damage those events could cause and the audiences that may be affected. You can then devise a communications plan with your PR agency that will help limit damage to stakeholders and ultimately, your company.
Items discussed should include – amongst others – first response, use of language, frequency of updates and points of contact. You will also need to work out who will communicate with customers and shareholders and how, bearing in mind that this can often be leaked to media.
When you are writing your crisis communications plan, identify the best people to implement it and divide responsibilities amongst them and your PR team. Everyone on your internal crisis team should be in a management role, as they will be familiar with your company’s core messaging and will be comfortable talking about the company knowledgeably.
3. Test the plan
Having an up-to-date plan is fantastic, but it can be rendered useless if you don’t do at least a couple of run-throughs in conjunction with your tech PR agency. Being disaster-ready indicates that your crisis management team will be familiar with the protocol and more likely to act calmly and logically should an incident occur. They will also be able to think on their feet and adapt the plan as the crisis evolves.
If disaster strikes, you will want someone who is calm, media-trained and familiar with the company talking to stakeholders and media. Giving clear, unambiguous and factual messages is this person’s role, while staying calm and collected under pressure. It is important to remember that how information is given is just as important as what information is given. Your spokesperson must therefore be comfortable dealing with everyone from media, to employees, to customers.
If your chosen spokesperson has not received media training, speak to your tech PR agency and ask them to organise a session for your spokesperson and a back-up spokesperson. Just because someone speaks well in interviews, that doesn’t mean they will perform as well under pressure with cameras pointing at them.
5. Develop holding statements and Q&As
Your holding statement, along with a thorough questions and answers document, will form the backbone of your crisis communications plan. The holding statement can be developed by your PR agency and will help you to communicate with stakeholders quickly if an incident does occur. This statement generally recognises a crisis and gives as much factual information as appropriate.
The questions and answers document, which your PR agency can also develop for you, is essentially a fact sheet that contains a list of questions that your spokesperson could be asked during media interviews along with suggested answers. It should contain everything from basic company information to the trickiest possible questions that could crop up in any future crisis. If a crisis does hit your company, the document should be updated to include questions specific to the issue.
6. Communicate quickly and effectively
When a crisis happens, the worst possible thing you can do is create a vacuum of information. This void will be filled with speculation, rumours and inaccurate information that can damage your company and alienate your stakeholders. If you address your audience quickly with clear, factual information in a calm and composed way, it will help to minimise damage. Be conscious of the language you use and opt for written responses if appropriate.
7. Post mortem
Learn from your mistakes. When the dust has settled, have a look back over the crisis. Look at how it started; how it was managed by your team; how the media, customers and public reacted to the communications strategy; and how well the issue was resolved. With this information, update and improve your crisis communications plan with your team and do another dry run.
If you would like our expert help with developing a crisis communications plan for your business, get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.