The Four C’s of Crisis Communication
“Crisis communications in the public relations world can have many different interpretations depending on who you ask, but here’s the fundamental definition: you’re trying to mitigate damage to your company’s reputation by third party sources” wrote Christopher Penn, Vice President of Marketing Technology at Shift Communications.
While crisis communication might not sound like the most exciting topic for your company, it’s certainly one of the most important ingredients of a successful business. If you’re asking yourself “Does this really apply to me?”, the answer is yes! Employees at all levels of an organisation should have at least a basic knowledge of why crisis communication is crucial to the success of their company.
Crisis communication, at its core, is based on common sense. Of the following list of popular new stories, you can probably remember why these stories made the evening news: the BP oil spill, Ryanair’s racist passenger problem, Kendall Jenner’s Pepsi ad, the Flint water crisis, the Lion Air plane crash, Roseanne Barr and the Brett Kavanaugh hearings. No matter what your specific opinion is on these stories, you can see that they were all disasters from a public relations and crisis communications point of view.
The Institute for PR wrote, “While crises begin as a negative/threat, effective crisis management can minimize the damage and in some case allow an organization to emerge stronger than before the crisis”.
Crisis communication plans are not created to prevent terrible situations from happening, but to prevent these situations from escalating out of control. According to Jonathan Bernsteinfrom Bernstein Crisis Management, “If you don’t prepare, you will incur more damage”.
Here are the 4 C’s of crisis communication to aid your business in the pre-crisis, mid-crisis and post-crisis phases.
Coordinate with your employees and make sure that everyone is on the same page. Novid Parsi from the Society for Human Resource Management shared eight tips for communicating with employees during a crisis. One of these tips was to not put up roadblocks. According to the article, “trying to keep employees from communicating about crises via social media is futile. Instead, help them shape their messages by giving them correct information in a timely manner”.
You could also perform a vulnerability audit in order to find your company’s strengths and weaknesses when it comes to crisis communications. Bernstein Crisis Management suggeststhree different types of vulnerability audits: crisis document audit, executive session vulnerability audit and a comprehensive vulnerability audit. Check out this article to learn more about these audits and how they could be useful to your company.
Consider the risks and benefits of your crisis plan. You should be prepared for every scenario that might play out during a crisis situation. According to the National Mining Association (NMA), you can accomplish this by creating message maps. Message maps are “an organized, prioritized repository of the information available to convey and support the messages the public needs to hear, understand and remember. Message maps also structure information essential for responding to public concerns.” Message maps are one way to prepare for crisis, but there are other templates and ideas that can be used to prepare for a crisis. A quick Google search can give you lots of ideas for preparing for a crisis.
Communicate with your audience. Consumers appreciate honesty, especially in a crisis. Make sure you keep them informed at every stage of a crisis. In a YouTube video, Russ Rhea, Media Trainer with Predictive Media Network, suggested three ways to communicate during and after a crisis. First, express empathy right away. Second, stay in the present and talk about what is happening presently. Third, keep consistent eye contact with the reporters in order to foster trust.
Create and maintain trust by continuing the communication during the post-crisis phase. According to an article from VirtualSpeech, “The organisation needs to release updates on the recovery process, corrective actions, and/or investigations of the crisis. The amount of follow-up communication required depends on the amount of information promised during the crisis and the length of time it takes to complete the recovery process”. This builds trust with the desired consumer and proves that your company cares.
Warren Buffett once said, “It takes twenty years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently”. You can not prevent crisis situations from happening, but you can decide how you will react to them as a company.
Whether you are in a crisis or preparing for one, remember to coordinate with employees, consider the risks and benefits of your plan, communicate honestly with your audience, and create trust by communicating post-crisis.
Ed Bradley said, “Be prepared, work hard, and hope for a little luck. Recognize that the harder you work and the better prepared you are, the more luck you might have”.
*This article first appeared on The Crisis Responders, a student-run blog created by Tyler West, Addyson Garner, Faith Banford and I. That blog was part of a class project for a social media development class taught by Dr. Jason Leverett at Liberty University.