The CrisisWe’ve all dealt with it: The rogue tweet, the customer service meltdown, the accidental reply all, the billboard with the double entendre, the day your one defective product gets sent to the loudest guy on the internet. We usually call it “a crisis”. I can think of nothing that puts the reputation of a brand and the team behind it to the test more than a crisis. Folks get emotional, people demand answers, customers cancel orders, and everyone starts pointing fingers. It’s your very own big lead brick: heavy and poisonous. But, if we use a little alchemy by following these eight steps, we can turn this brick into gold.
Before Your Crisis
1. Create a team.Don’t create a mess trying to clean up another. The “Crisis Communication Team” is the foundation of the structure that you’ll rely upon during a crisis and you should have this team organized and ready for action. Identify the people in your organization who can help you manage the flow of information during a crisis, and ask them to join your Crisis Communication Team.
2. Prepare a communications plan.Your existing company roles are probably not ideal in the face of a crisis. A good crisis communications plan will define specific roles to be filled for a crisis event. I suggest “Team Director” to oversee the operation and “Communications Manager” to manage the flow of information. The plan should include a regularly updated contact list for key business leaders and a checklist of very general action steps that would apply to any crisis.
3. Draft a questionnaire.You are an alchemist, not a psychic. Don’t spin your wheels trying to prepare for everything. You cannot predict what or when your next crisis will be, and you are not creative enough to imagine all of the possible ways things can go wrong. The main part of your crisis communication plan should actually be a questionnaire. When your team convenes, it should ask questions such as:
“What is the nature of the crisis and where is it being played out?”
“Is there an immediate need for a public response?”
“What are the sources of content needed to respond to this event?”
“Where can we direct the media for the most updated info related to this event?”
“What is the priority of each response area?”
“Are there any internal weaknesses or conflicts of interest that the team should address?”
4. Run a simulation.The goal of the team, the plan and the questionnaire is to provide structure during an unpredictable and stressful time. Wouldn’t you want to know whether it works as intended? Best to check for holes in your gloves before you start working with lead.
During your crisis
5. Respect the media.
They might be coming after you, but let’s face it, they are the ones with direct access to the people you need to reach. Anticipate their questions, prepare for interviews, provide credible information, be nice. Don’t ignore them, don’t say “no comment”, and don’t try to stop them from doing their job.