Crisis Communications

Every organization is vulnerable to crises. In this day and age of heightened media, both traditional and social, organizations can no longer stick their heads in the sand during a time of crisis. Stakeholders are typically not understanding, or forgiving of this ostrich-like behaviour.

The public has been exposed to such behaviour in cases like former President Bill Clinton, Enron, BP, Maple Leaf Foods, Hurricane Katrina, etc.

Effective crisis communications can be challenging, but getting prepared in advance can help minimize or alleviate damage. The slower the response during a crisis, the more damage is incurred.

Three basic steps outlined below are great starting points for any organization that is looking to be more prepared if and when a crisis strikes.

Crisis: Any situation that is threatening or could threaten to harm people or property, seriously interrupt business, damage reputation or negatively impact share value.

1.     Have a Plan:

It is essential for businesses to have a crisis communications plan.  Once a sound plan has been created and finalized it is important for the plan to be circulated to all key personnel.

This plan should act as a key document during the crisis. It should be well organized and available in both a hard and soft copy for ease of use. It should include such key items as:

– Communications flow chart – This chart should detail the flow of communications during a time of crisis.

– Key contact list – This contact list should be at the beginning of the plan, and NEEDS to be updated regularly to ensure accuracy.

– Key messaging – This section should illustrate corporate key messages.

 2.     Identify and Train Key Spokespeople:

It is essential that proper media training take place for individuals in organizations who are likely to face stakeholders and media during a crisis.  Media training will prepare key spokespeople to confidently respond to media and stakeholders during the time of crisis and avoid potential media blunders.

Effective media spokesperson training, coupled with a comprehensive crisis communications plan can allow any company to assertively manage any crisis thrown their way.

3.     Practice makes Perfect:

After an effective crisis communication plan is in place, and key spokespeople have been media trained, a great next step is performing a mock crisis scenario. This exercise will prove to be invaluable for any organization, especially for key spokespeople.

The mock scenario should be executed as if a real crisis is taking place. It should allow for the following:

– The crisis communication plan to be implemented to the fullest extent possible. Key spokespeople to practise their media training

– Following the mock scenario, a complete debrief outlining key observations and feedback can allow for future improvements and better preparedness.

There is no doubt about it, crises are stressful events. But being prepared can help to ease this stress and mitigate potential damages.

JM

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