We let the facts do the talking.

Why crisis communications planning is crucial for any business

Part 1

The recent, tragic Lion Air plane crash in Indonesia, brings into sharp relief the absolute necessity for airlines to have in place a solid crisis communications plan and the damage that can be caused to a company’s reputation without one.

Complaints from the families involved that they are not receiving information, a lack of clarity or regular updates to the media, and few, if any, pertinent social media posts from any airline undergoing such a crisis are unacceptable in this day and age.

Airlines sadly all too frequently provide prominent examples of how not to manage a crisis. The authorities’ response to the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines MH370 in 2014 was a classic case in hand. In the immediate aftermath, the official information provided was slow to arrive, confusing and contradictory, and the families of those on board accused the government and airline of being completely unsympathetic of their suffering.

Had there been a process in place for managing such a crisis, the response could have been completely different and not have added pressure to an already catastrophic situation.

Crisis communications have fast developed over recent years and it’s hard to emphasise enough the significance of factoring in social media to crisis and issues planning.

A crisis can easily be made public even before the company involved is aware of an issue. In 2015, for example, a British Airways (BA) aircraft caught fire on a Las Vegas airport runway during take-off. Three minutes later, a picture of the fire appeared on Twitter. The incident was verified by another user tweeting a similar image, who also tagged BA. This image then transferred to Instagram and other social networks. BA’s London-based PR team may well have seen the posts before, or at the same time as, being alerted to the fire by their colleagues.

Airlines are an obvious target: when a plane crashes, it is international news and a major tragedy for the passengers, crew and their friends and families, so the ripples of the event are spread far and wide. The company comes under public scrutiny and the media are poised to find blame.

The good news is that there are steps every company can take to have a solid crisis strategy in place, some of which I outline in my next post.

Part 2

Too many times, I’ve heard company CEOs say, “We don’t need to spend money on a crisis comms plan – we haven’t had a crisis in many years, why bother now? We’ll take on a crisis communications agency if we ever need one.”

The trouble is, by the time they do need one, it’s too late and the crisis is already taking hold, causing potential long-term damage to that company’s long built-up reputation that may take years to rebuild, or, at worst, wipe out the company completely.

It’s when things are running smoothly that brands should consider having a crisis plan in place to cover all eventualities. But what should such a plan involve?

Here are some of the basics:

  1. Consider the variables: what are the likely – and less likely – crisis scenarios your company could face? This provides the opportunity to tailor your crisis comms plan accordingly.
  2. Identify the team that would be in charge and the relevant approvals structure, e.g. who is responsible for managing which areas; signing off holding statements; speaking to the media, etc.?
  3. Identify official senior spokespeople and ensure they are fully media-trained. A nervous-sounding CEO who stumbles over their words will not inspire confidence in the media or public, so make sure the selected spokespeople are well prepared.
  4. Set up a process for notification and monitoring systems. This includes monitoring social media and the internet; speed is of the essence and real-time responses are vital.
  5. Identify your stakeholders to ensure they are kept in the loop.
  6. Conduct a post-crisis analysis to see what worked and what needs improvement, then update the crisis comms plan accordingly.

It’s very easy for a company to get it wrong when it comes to managing a crisis situation, but with forward planning, a clear strategy, and the right team structure in place, the process of managing a crisis need not become an issue in itself.


Sarah Longbottom is Director of Strategy & Planning at Cicero & Bernay Public Relations, an independent PR agency headquartered in Dubai offering new-age public relations consultancy to the UAE and across the MENA region. |