*Article has been updated with current information. Enjoy!
Threats to your reputation can come from anywhere at any time. The business environment can be a barrier to good crisis communication. In a crisis, it’s natural to think of your customers and the media first, but it’s important to remember those closest to your business who may be impacted: employees, vendors, sponsors, investors, and other stakeholders.
What you communicate and how you communicate it may be different for each of these audiences. Should a crisis strike, there are eight basic tips you can follow to help achieve the best possible outcome:
- Is this bad news or is this a crisis? Sometimes, how you react to a perceived crisis can make matters worse. Know when a situation is just “bad news” and when it’s a true crisis.
- Get the facts. Gather your crisis response team (leadership team, operations, public relations, HR, legal) and map out what you know for sure, and just as important, what you do not know. Anticipate what questions each audience might ask. Collect as many facts as possible without disrupting internal operations. Chances are someone else knows or thinks they know what happened, so you need to make sure you have the real story.
- Identify and train your spokespeople. Once you have a solid communication plan – consisting of concise and concrete messages targeted to your key audiences – designate an internal spokesperson. Provide them with a template for their statements as well as samples of all the various questions they may be asked.
- Establish clear communication channels. Make sure messages about the situation are being transmitted to all departments, and any related issues that may be unique to those departments are being explored. Consider various perspectives (CEO / COO, CFO, CIO, CRO, HR, Legal, CMA / PR) to be sure the situation has been examined from all angles.
- Equip employees to respond. Give your staff a script of talking points (3-5 key messages) with pertinent background information and facts included – and ask them to practice. The consistent use of these talking points can help prevent confusion and mixed messages. Don’t forget to include a system for questions, feedback and discussion.
- Set clear expectations for employee communications. Have a system for employees to direct press or difficult inquiries to your spokesperson. Just because the media calls doesn’t mean they need to start talking, but never say “no comment.” Instead, say: “This is an evolving situation; there are things we don’t yet know, but this is what we can tell you…” Again, practice!
- Answer the unspoken question. A key element of communicating internally during a crisis is answering employees’ often unspoken question: “How can we help?” Loyal employees recognize when the company is in distress, under fire and in full crisis, and they need to know what this means to them personally and how they can help.
- Create closure. When the dust has settled, send out a final announcement summing up what happened, and what’s being done moving forward. Point out all the takeaways and lessons learned from the experience. And don’t forget to thank employees for their support!
While these tips can be helpful when you find yourself in a crisis, the best approach is to be prepared ahead of time.