Three Pillars to Define Your Crisis Comms
It’s not uncommon for a company to stumble through communications responses in the midst of a crisis – Hey, it’s a stressful time, and aligning on what comes next can add an extra layer of stress response for even the most savvy executive. We’ve all seen companies that flounder through a crisis, and the PR pros stand on the sidelines, shaking our heads in dismay and chatting with our inner circles about what we would have done differently. Don’t be one of those companies. For every emergency, there are three pillars that should guide your crisis comms. Even if you’re not the PR person at your company, these guidelines will serve you well.
With any crisis, there is a magic window of time during which a response can establish a more favorable tone for everything that follows. Getting ahead of the curve labels you as proactive – which in most crisis scenarios is the best practice. Even if your comms evolve, step one is to always acknowledge the problem. The quicker you do that, the better light you will be in with your stakeholders.
The message is important, and I am absolutely not advocating rushing it. However, prioritize crisis comms in their appropriate place and make sure your team understands importance of getting the message out. If not, you risk falling into the “ignoring the problem” category. Delaying a response allows others the time to craft their own narrative about what is happening and puts your company on the defensive. Ending up in the “ignoring the problem” or even the “reactive” category can have a huge impact on your credibility moving forward.
You may have the urge to “put lipstick on the pig” when it comes to crisis communications, but clarity is always, ALWAYS best. If step one of the crisis comms formula is acknowledging the problem, step two is sharing how you are going to fix it.
Not every crisis presents a quick fix, so you can opt to share the steps you are taking to find a solution. The key is to be clear in those actions. Don’t dress up your messaging in flowery language. Clarity will serve your company internally as well as externally. Make sure anyone interacting with your audience -be it over social media or taking phone calls – is using the same key talking points and understands the overall message.
A final note on clarity: some will tell you that over-communicating in a crisis is a faux-pas, but sharing clear actions will never be a wrong move. What could get you into hot water is repeating the same boilerplate message over and over again to your key audiences. Communicate when there are clear milestones and actions to share.
The third piece of the crisis communication formula is sometimes the hardest for companies to follow – tell people why they can or should trust you to fix the crisis. So much of crisis communication centers around the credibility of your company and your ability to follow through and engage even when you have little fires everywhere. But as my brilliant colleague Rachel Bradshaw has said on more than one occasion “Tell the truth. Only ever the truth, and as much of it as you can.”
Skilled writers will have you believe you can get by with smoke and mirrors messaging, but people see through that. In the end, it will leave a bad taste in their mouth. Let honesty guide every step of your messaging plan.
Bonus Pillar: Know When to Ask for Help
Particularly in a crisis, it helps to acknowledge when you are in over your head and can’t see the forest for the trees – and there is no shame in needing to consult with outside resources. Before I joined Caster, I did public relations internally for a company, and we worked with our fair share of agencies over the years. More than once, we tapped these teams to help us get clarity in a crisis while we tried to steady the ship internally. The Caster Team is filled with skilled communicators; getting an outside opinion can often help cast a vision for an overall strategy versus the “whack a’ mole” tendency that we can all default to when things get stressful.
Crisis communications is important, no matter how you slice it. These pillars are not a comprehensive strategy, but they will set your company on the right path.