Every business and organization is vulnerable to a sudden crisis. Without proper crisis planning, stakeholders and the public will not be so understanding and forgiving. If an organization does not prepare, the crisis can develop into a catastrophe, and result in more damage, particularly to reputation and the brand. This will cause a public perception that the organization is incompetent and possibly even criminally negligent – as was the case in the BP Deepwater explosion and oil leak. One of the most important ways to keep a crisis from escalating to a full-scale disaster is to have an effective PR communications plan of action. The following is a list of key crisis planning tips to ensure response to a crisis is effectively managed.
- Have a PR Crisis Communications Team in Place
One of the worst things to happen is a sudden crisis and no communications team in place to deal with the media, government officials, stakeholders, and the public. A crisis communications team should consist of experts in areas of media interviews and public relations development and implementation. The team and the team leader should know everything about the organization and be able to quickly gather all of the information soon after the crisis is reported. As well, the crisis team leader should be able to work with others, including consulting with and informing legal counsel and executives. Having sufficient crisis communications expertise is essential ensuring a proactive crisis communication team. In addition, it is critical for legal counsel to work proactively with the public relations team.
- Be Proactive by Anticipating a Crisis
Preparing for a crisis or crises means being proactive and anticipating a crisis or crises. The crisis communications team should come up with various crises that could happen. By doing so, they can find out if there are ways to reduce the potential of it actually occurring and they can plan possible responses if it happens. This includes preparing for best and worst case crisis scenarios. The result will be an effective crisis communications response team that can hit the ground running if one of the crises does occur. In addition, the crisis communications team must develop crisis-specific messages required for any given situation.
- Have Trained Media Spokespersons
When a serious crisis occurs, the media will flock to the site of the event and questions will be fired at a very fast rate. For this reason, it is essential to have a media spokesperson in place to manage the media. This is a very challenging job, which is why the people who will be out in front of the cameras must be properly trained on public speaking and media interviews. The crisis communications team should have selected individuals who have been pre-screened, and trained, to be the lead and/or backup spokespersons for the various media channels. It is important to note that there are very serious and sensitive crises that will require the top business executive to be out in front of the story. This means being out in front of the cameras.
Although the decision about who will speak is made after a crisis breaks, there needs to be a list of spokespersons to select from based on the type and seriousness of the crisis. Regardless of the choice, all spokespersons should receive professional training in how to speak to the media and the public as they will be communicating in situations that include media scrums, one-on-one interviews, public meetings, employee meetings, etc.
- Intelligence Gathering
When a major crisis occurs, there is a wide range of media channels that erupt, including television news, radio news, newspaper articles, social media responses, etc. During a crisis, it is essential to have the media channels monitored for negative trends, so there can be a quick and effective response, as well as adapted PR communications strategies
Mitigating the risk of a disaster resulting from a crisis is an organization’s responsibility. Effective crisis communications management requires advance planning and preparation in order to minimize damage. The slower the response, the more likely damage will be incurred. As well, misunderstandings or misinterpreting information can cause more damage to the organization and its reputation. It is essential to be prepared and ready to respond in a way that ensures smooth navigation through and following the crisis A key point to remember: organizations hit by a crisis come out of the turmoil in better shape when they have developed a crisis communications plan prior to the event.