Preparation is everything

Not to put too fine a point on it, when it comes to crisis management, preparedness is the key to everything.

Sincerity, openness and speed of response all have an impact as well, but if you’re prepared, then you’ll have these considerations factored in already.

Hopefully your organisation has a crisis plan in place, and the crisis communications plan should be a major part of this. The plan should be checked, updated and rehearsed regularly. Quick responses will help to mitigate the communications vacuum and subsequent misinformation and negative impacts on the firm’s reputation.

Two recent events have brought this sharply in to focus: a major security breach of a UK bank, and a serious public transport accident in London. Both necessitated speedy and sincere responses. Both demonstrate how easy it is for negative stories to propagate (parents with no access to funds in one case; impersonal, insincere letters of condolence in the other.)

In each case, communicating with stakeholders was critical to helping preserve the organisations’ reputations. It’s hard to provide a response before you have all the facts, but respond you must: to acknowledge the situation and reassure that you are doing all you can to remedy it. Pre-prepared holding statements and key messages can be at the ready for a crisis. Obviously they won’t be specific, but they are a good starting point for communicating with media.

Without an adequate and speedy response a vacuum is left which is filled with speculation. Journalists are hungry to report the story, so may start filling in the gaps themselves, affected people and their families are desperately seeking facts and reassurance, and staff can give out misinformation and themselves feel vulnerable and confused. If you can’t give out facts, you can at least acknowledge and try to reassure.

In the absence of facts, however, don’t provide incorrect information. This is always fraught with danger, especially if there is a chance that it could be perceived as a way to bat away blame to another party.

Sincerity in your response will also be critical in how you are perceived. No-one chooses to be involved in a crisis, but as an organisation you must take responsibility. Doubtless affected customers (or other stakeholders) are even less keen to be involved in the crisis than you are.

Social media enables disgruntled customers to be contacted by the media very quickly, and allows images of crises to be shared instantly. How you react will speak volumes about whether or not you really care. So take care of what you say, how you say it and when you say it.

Written by Emma Murphy, Director (@EmmaMurphy)

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