Most organisations wrongly assume that they are unlikely to ever be involved with a crisis – at an operational or reputational level. However, again and again it has been proven that nowadays no organisation is immune, and at some point in time, every organisation will face a crisis to some extent.
A crisis is a situation that occurs as a result of an event that takes place either inside or outside of an organisation. Crisis situations can have small or significant effects on organisations and on the lives of employees, customers, suppliers, board members and other stakeholders, ranging from insipid reaction to intense emotionalism. A crisis may have a direct impact on how well individuals cope, react and manage the situation.
A crisis usually arises with little or no warning and requires immediate and decisive actions. At that moment, communication is the key to protecting reputation and image. A quick and efficient response can prevent difficult circumstances from escalating into a full-scale crisis. The key to an effective crisis response is to be fully prepared.
The key element of any crisis handling is the Crisis Communication Team, which when activated has a number of responsibilities to handle the crisis from a reputation perspective.
1) Assess the situation
The team must determine the exact crisis, have clear facts and confirm what has/is happening. Considerations include the possible wider repercussions if the situation escalates, the potential timescales, who must be notified, the reputation implications, and how the situation is being contained.
2) Assess the audience
Once the situation has been adequately assessed, the team needs to understand the potential impact that media coverage and social media activity are likely to have on the various internal and external audiences. The team should determine possible inquiry angles from the media and decide if a proactive or reactive approach is required.
3) Establish a monitoring system
Systems must be set up to constantly monitor the situation (web, media social) – including holding regular crisis team briefings. Monitoring should also include front-line staff and other stakeholders such as influencers and advocates. These briefings should include an official spokesperson who has been clearly briefed on the changing situation, and ensure that new information is shared within the team.
4) Revise the plan as situation develops
As the situation is monitored and evolves, the communication approach should be updated. It is important that you are vigilant enough to spot that the situation is changing, and flexible enough to amend your strategy accordingly.
5) Determine the best course of action
The team must agree on the overall communication approach depending on the type of audience, using separate plans to address the various types of audiences. This should include internal and external communications plans. Remember that internal and external audiences will have very different informational needs.
The team should also determine if the course of action should be proactive or reactive. Proactive is always best if awareness of the situation is in the public already and inquiries are being received. Reactive approaches are recommended when the situation is currently relatively minor, can be resolved quickly, and has not attracted public interest.
It is vital that whatever action the team decides to take, the spokesperson to represent the organisation is appointed to make official statements and answer questions throughout the crisis. Determining the spokesperson depends on the gravity of the situation. For instance, the CEO should not be the spokesperson for a relatively minor incident, whereas the CEO should be for a critical incident. Remember that the organisation’s preparedness or seriousness in handling the event could be seen in a negative light.
7) Determine appropriate positioning of cause or messages
One of the most important responsibilities of the team should be to determine the appropriate positioning of the cause for the crisis or message to address the emergency. To decide on a position, it is important to view the crisis from the eyes of the public and whoever was involved in the crisis. Ignoring the situation will only worsen the situation.
Examples of parameters to be considered while positioning a crisis are:
• Human error
• Unauthorised procedures
• Inadequate supervision
• Inadequate quality control
• Misuse of confidential information
• Errors of judgment
• Inadequate standard operating procedures
When working properly and with advance planning in place, an effective Crisis Communication Team has the power to mitigate reputational damages and ensure that all stakeholders remain informed and on-board.
Ross Bethell is the Director of Strategy of Cicero & Bernay Public Relations. An independent PR agency headquartered in Dubai and offering new-age public relations consultancy to the UAE and across the GCC. | www.cbpr.me