Ever seen communications officials running around in circles, bewildered when a major crisis confronts their company? They seem to have no idea where to turn or what should be their first line of response to the public.
When this happens, it clearly reveals that the communications department does not have a crisis communication plan. They did not anticipate possible scenarios of crisis and simply don’t know their communications priorities when the stakes for their company’s reputations and values are high.
The best way to avoid such a PR nightmare is for companies to have a crisis communication plan. Don’t wait for a crisis to happen and then go running to get professionals to help to salvage your company’s image. Get a plan by looking at possible scenarios of a crisis that might confront your company and have well thought out strategies to respond to them including identifying key spokespersons to interact with the media and the public. When a crisis happens, trigger the communications crisis plan.
From various examples around the world, we know a crisis itself doesn’t always do the most harm; but it is the handling or mishandling of a crisis that often does. BP’s handling of the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico attests to this. And what is most remembered from the environmental disaster is the PR bungling, one after the other.
Companies that are facing a crisis have to think about their many levels of publics: their own staff, their shareholders, the government, the public and crucially, the media.
The media can make or break companies in times of crisis; the media play an important role in the court of public opinion and they can be influential in how the public thinks about a company’s reputations and values, depending on how they go about dealing with a crisis. The media see itself as the ears and eyes of the public; they are the vanguard for democracy and will most likely side with victims than companies in a crisis. The media, therefore, can help or hurt in a crisis.
Also, importantly, companies now have to take into account that in the era of the internet, news instantaneously hits cyberspace from many non-traditional sources such as Twitter, Facebook, You Tube, bloggers, Instagram and many others social media platforms. The unprecedented growth of social media and the shift in media consumption habits have added pressure on communication officials to reach audiences, not only offline but now online.
In Haiti, following the devastating earthquake on the island, survivors were being interviewed by cell phones by non-journalists who shared stories on the Internet and went ‘live’ on Skype before the traditional media were able to get on the ground. It was these very cell phone interviews that were used by major international syndicated television channels to break the news on the human devastation caused by the earthquake in Haiti.
It has also been documented that online usage increases exponentially during times of crisis. People congregate online and that’s where your company needs to be as well: where the audience is.
The short advice is: have a crisis communications plan. Be prepared for possible scenarios. Don’t wait for a crisis to stare you in the face. The reputation and values of your organisation is at stake.
Identify key spokespersons. Identify who will speak first; whether it’s the CEO or another person and this of course, depends on the level of crisis facing the company. Your plan should consider various stages of a crisis and how to respond to each stage.
If your company is interested in developing a Crisis Communication Plan, please contact us at marketing@caribbean-pr-agency or firstname.lastname@example.org