“Crisis Communications” has its name for a reason. You have to tell your story at the worst possible time, under the most stressful conditions, and in all likelihood to a potentially hostile audience. Yet the only thing worse than crisis communications is to not communicate at a time when discussing an issue is of paramount importance.
Effective communication in times of crisis requires several steps:
- Define the problem, e.g. a public relations gaffe, a product not delivered on schedule, an untimely accident or death.
- Identify the “brains trust” inside and outside your organization dedicated to helping you develop a plan.
- Vet the plan for weaknesses, or unexpected consequences, to the best extent possible; a mock press conference is always helpful.
- Determine your target audiences, e.g. employees at your company, a competitor, the press, a government agency, and how they are impacted by the problem or your management of it.
- Execute the plan with the appropriate team in place, limiting the number of spokespersons so that everyone stays on message.
- Perform due diligence with follow-up to assure that the issue is put to rest.
There are countless intangibles to consider as well, such as the venue where the communication takes place, the day and time, and how the message is delivered.
Crisis communications is delicate because often the first impression you make dealing with the issue will be the one that people remember the most.