Crisis communications protects and defends the integrity, reputation and in some cases market value of a company or organization. A crisis can be acute such as a threat based on legal dispute, theft, accident, fire, flood or man-made disaster that could be attributed to a company. Or a crisis can be ongoing such as negative comments on social media. Crises that are handled well can boost brand loyalty as well as company stock, whereas crises that are mishandled can result in sales decline and loss of consumer trust.
A company’s reputation is one of their most valuable assets. An effective crisis communication plan, in place prior to the onset of the crisis, can protect or alleviate damage to the company from media assertions that can reel out information, spun in any direction to attract more viewers, twenty-four hours a day. As human anxiety is ubiquitous and unpredictable particularly in crisis, it is imperative to be ready for a crisis and not think “it can’t happen to me.”
Joan Gladstone, president and CEO of Gladstone International, one of the most respected crisis communication and issues management firms in Southern California says, “In my 16 years of crisis communications counseling, I’ve come to understand a seldom-discussed yet highly significant aspect of crisis management: the challenge of dealing with human nature during times of extreme stress.”
Gladstone suggests preparation, teamwork, perspective and practice will make the difference in crisis management. Preparation includes quarterly meetings with executives, including the legal team, to discuss business issues that may escalate that may be added to a crisis intervention strategy and training spokespersons to handle difficult questions under stress. Perspective is gained by speaking with someone outside of the influential realm of the tragedy and its effect on the company. Teamwork involves identifying the roles of crisis communications team. Practice three key messages and back them up with a willingness to remain available during the entire processes.
The most effective crisis communications involves maintaining connectivity and authenticity. Demonstrating true empathy for those affected through action and words can turn a disaster into a positive introduction to new customers and will elevate a company’s trustworthiness for existing customers as well. Beyond the customer, also recognizing how other stakeholders can and will be effective is an important element in crisis communication.
Other tips to remember
- Be readily accessible to the news media
- Establish notification systems and allow for distributed access
- Streamline communication processes
- Maintain information security
- Ensure uninterrupted audit trails
- Deliver high volume communications
- Support multi-channel communications
- Remove dependencies on paper based processes
Crisis communication is a matter of being proactive and willing to protect not only a company’s reputation, but its positive impact on the community. It is the tool that a company can use to show how well key officers handle themselves in all situations.