Saying the wrong thing in a crisis is even worse than saying nothing at all. Here are five core tenets for creating an intelligent communication strategy for any type of crisis.
Eleven years before singing denim jacket Ronan Keating simpered his way into the minds of millions, American country music star Keith Whitley crooned: “You say it best, when you say nothing at all.” Whatever your thoughts on the song – we will withhold judgement – it’s the perfect example of what not to do during a PR crisis. So what should you say?
Here are the five tenets of an intelligent crisis communication strategy.
Figure out your operational adjustments
Must. Get. Content. Out. Instantly. During a PR crisis, lots of companies panic and succumb to reactionary, kneejerk comms. That path is perilous and almost always leads to losing the sense of who you are and what you stand for. So take a deep breath. Drop your shoulders. Stay calm.
Now you have an opportunity. While everyone else panics and creates white noise, you can get your head down and plan. Figure out what you can do to adjust. How can your business, service or product become more agile in response to your crisis? How can your knowledge and expertise serve your community and what does that look like operationally?
By the way, don’t forget to consider future customer sentiment.
Because this will blow over.
Identify your public
Staying quiet during a PR crisis is not an option. It’s a time for leadership, direction and clear communication. Now, one of the secrets of good messaging is retaining a sharp focus on the person receiving your message. So figure out the groups of people who you need to talk to – be it your customers, your suppliers, your staff or your company stakeholders.
And no, you won’t be sending a one-size-fits-all message to everyone. You need to consider each of your audiences carefully. For example, you may need to alert suppliers about payment expectations or notify customers about delivery delays and closures.
Create a clear and meaningful message for each audience
For each of the audiences you have identified, create a message that is accurate, transparent and – if possible – positive. Keep in mind that things can change at breakneck speed during a crisis. You may have to recraft your message and reach out to your audiences on a weekly or even daily basis. With things in flux, you need to flex. Just remember: never panic and always consider your operational position carefully.
To expand: during a crisis people need clarity and trustworthy information. Sensationalism adds to the sense of anxiety. Don’t feed the hype machine. Don’t share your speculations on possible outcomes. Don’t wade into the media debate unless it’s your area of expertise. Be considered. Be diplomatic. Be the company that sticks to the facts. The clarity and accuracy of your message is crucial.
Use the right channels
Make full use of your available communication channels. Go where your audience is. And select the most appropriate channels for each message and each audience. Remember that communication is a two-way thing. You need to be receptive to queries from your audiences – again, be they customers, suppliers or a separate group. If you don’t have the resource to field queries across all channels, shut some down and direct all queries to one or two places. Your audience will appreciate the honesty. And they will appreciate knowing that you are taking steps to make sure their voices are heard.
Talk to a professional PR agency
Crisis communication is something that many businesses fear. That’s fair enough. There’s often little time for thought. And the consequences of saying the wrong thing can be significant. But in the right circumstances there’s an opportunity to enhance your brand reputation too. That’s why it’s smart to consider using a professional PR agency to assist with your crisis communications strategy.
If comms matter to you, forget Ronan. Talk to us.
Pick up the phone and let’s discuss how we could work together.