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Crisis Communications – planning for the worst

Polly Buckland
Polly Buckland

Crisis. One hears that word and thinks of disaster, large scale incidences and more. 

Large companies such as Shell or Apple will have extensive crisis communication plans. They will be ready and waiting for any disaster of any scale. However, there will be many SMEs who think they don’t need one simply due to the size of their business. 

Do you have a crisis communication plan in place? If not, why don’t you have one?

In 2018, more than one fifth (22%) of SMEs purported to have standalone crisis protection. This was up from 13% in 2017. The same report also shows that 1.4 million SMEs were hit by a crisis in 2018. 

Don't Freak Out

If you’re now freaking out about your lack of plan and wondering about every possible disaster that could happen to you and your business, don’t. 

A crisis communication plan is a relatively simple document and process. The work is done upfront and needs a bit of thought and knowledge from everyone in the business. 

Below, we’ll outline some simple steps to help you make your crisis communication plan so you can feel fully prepared on what you need to do. 

Know Your Channels

While it seems strange, the best way to start is outward and work your way in. Start by making a list of all of your outgoing and internal channels. The ones you use regularly and ones that could be used in case of an emergency. 

Social media platforms, emails (both marketing and your own personal business emails), regular press releases, all these should be listed. 

Once you’ve got a channel list, think about all the different crises that could happen. This could include your own personal ones such as a long term server outage at the company, a supplier going into administration but should also include large scale, national and international disasters such as terrorist attacks etc. 

Think about how you want to respond, especially on weekends when staff may not be working (make sure to check or create an overtime policy). How easy is it for you to cancel all remaining outgoing messages that day in the event of a tragedy? 

Message Planning

If possible, plan and get approval for all messages you would put out in any circumstance and the type of wording you’d want to use. 

Plan this in a spreadsheet and make sure it is shared with everyone and in an easily accessible and central location.

  1. Get everyone to keep a copy offline. This is so if work has to be done via mobile (due to an internet outage or similar circumstance), it won’t affect anything.
  2. Assign job roles, so who will be managing social, who communicates to your staff and also create a back-up in case someone is unavailable or on leave.
  3. Within your plan create a log or audit, so if there’s been an incident, get everyone to log who has done what; this will ensure that nothing has been missed.
  4. Always monitor social/press channels to make sure you are responding or correcting anything as necessary.
  5. Be sensitive with your messaging. If there’s been a large scale terrorist incident, then the message shouldn’t be something simply churned out.
  6. Relax, pause, reflect and then post your message. Don’t use hashtags and promote your business. It’s a time to step back and pause comms until the next working day to respect the issue. 

 

There are four phases of Crisis Comms to remember when planning;

  1. Readiness
  2. Response
  3. Reassure
  4. Recovery

 

Make sure you are ready and prepared for any issue and plan your response, reassuring people of the current situation. Then, once it’s over, start to recover the brand or issue.

Own Company Issues

Aside from national and international disasters, your own company needs one. If your office building gets flooded, how do you respond and communicate your needs and operating conditions? 

If you were one of the millions of businesses affected by Meta going down or when one of the banks decides not to transfer any money then you may not have had a message in place or known what procedure to follow to let people know you were affected. 

It’s always good to decide these things well in advance and have a plan in place in case the worst happens. 

Becky Attwood, PR Specialist for The Typeface Group exaplains

“A crisis can come in all shapes of sizes and your communications needs will be different for each crisis, so being as prepared as possible is essential. It will save you vital time during an incident, which could help limit any potential damage to your reputation, depending on what crisis you’re dealing with. 

It’s important to know when is the right time to communicate with your audiences and balance what you need to tell them and what they might want to hear. Remember to ensure that your communications respond to the crisis and reassures your audiences. Importantly, communications activity shouldn’t stop when the crisis is perceived as over. Effective messaging to inform your audience of what’s happening afterwards is also really important and can start rebuilding any lost reputation.”

A Recap

If your social media page or company received a flurry of negativity. Here is a recap of our top tips for dealing with them.

  • Don’t react too quickly, a heat of the moment response might worsen the situation. Think about the comment or coverage and decide if it is inaccurate or just a negative angle.
  • Do not ignore or delete the post or comment, unless it is genuinely a case of spam, profanity or libel. In that case, report it to the social network it has been posted on. If a correction is warranted for a piece of press, then contact the reporter first. Provide a clear reason why a correction is needed and provide evidence to back up your point. Be firm but not rude as maintaining a good relationship with the press is important.
  • If it’s a personal attack on you or the company, speak to someone else to help with the complaint. It’s not an easy pill to swallow, but sometimes we have to take ownership of our mistakes.
  • Try not to leave it too long to acknowledge the complaint, even if it’s simply to apologise and ask for further information. 

The main thing is don’t panic. A crisis is your ordinary job in extraordinary circumstances. Work together, prepare and have ready a crisis communications plan which everyone has access to and it will support you and your organisation through a crisis. If you’re reading this and need advice or want someone to help write your plan get in touch. 

Our team have lots of experience with crisis communications that will help you be ready, respond effectively, reassure your audiences and help you recover from a crisis. 

MORE HANDS ON DECK

Crisis Comms & More

Do you need an agile team to assist with your marketing? From stakeholder comms to newsletters, design assets to online content,  there’s certainly a lot to cover. A flexi-extension of your team to ease that burden sounds pretty good right now, doesn’t it?

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