Communication in crisis refers to the protocols a company uses to exchange information effectively during a significant threat to reputation or daily operations. A crisis communication plan goes into effect in the event of an unexpected crisis, connecting organizational team members with the general public and important stakeholders.
Unfortunately, there are many forces in this world that are beyond our control — both external and internal — that may create challenges for your organization. In fact, it’s not a matter of if your organization will encounter a crisis, it’s when. Crisis communication and reputation management go hand in hand. Preparation is the key to successfully navigating reputation and crisis management with public relations — following a plan is easier than creating a plan in the heat of the moment. However, many organizations aren’t officially equipped to handle emergency situations. According to research on crisis communication, 47% of employers say that they have the capabilities or processes they would need to meet a crisis with the best possible outcome.
As a crisis communications pr agency, Communications Strategy Group (CSG®) serves as a trusted partner and strategic advisor to help organizations hope for the best and plan for everything else, preparing for crises, navigating the unexpected and bolstering reputation management. CSG helps organizations develop comprehensive reputation management and crisis response strategies that cover everything from identifying the people who need to be on the crisis team to frameworks for proactive and reactive scenarios.
What Is Crisis Communication?
What exactly is crisis communication? Legendary business leader Warren Buffet captured the argument for planning sooner than later perfectly: “it takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.” Crisis comms leverage a proactive approach to safeguard your organization’s reputation and more seamlessly navigate unexpected challenges.
If recent history has taught us anything, it’s that you never know what your crisis plan will help you weather: 62% of companies used a crisis plan to navigate the pandemic. From technologies and systems to protocols and plans, organizations must be prepared for a wide range of potential crises, including extreme weather, crime, cyber-attacks, product recalls, corporate malfeasance, reputation crises and public relations incidents.
A crisis communication plan is an investment in planning for the worst so your company ends up with the best outcome. In a PR crisis situation, time is everything. A quick initial response often sets the tone for the entire process. Acting hastily without a plan can intensify the situation while responding appropriately and rationally based on an existing crisis management process can set a course for success. Preparing ahead of time for a crisis ensures that relevant personnel can quickly and effectively communicate with each other during moments of threat, sharing information that allows the organization to quickly rectify the situation, protect customers, employees and assets, and ensure business continuity.
How Can Crisis Management Help Your Company?
Crisis communication is a vital component of business communication. Even the most unexpected public relations crises feel easier to navigate when you already have a rubric for what to say and do because the guesswork is gone and the plan is in place.
Crisis communications management isn’t a generic solution. It is a from-the-ground-up initiative that should reflect both the strengths and specific considerations necessary for your leadership and the company at large. Understanding how to approach crisis and reputation management is as much about understanding what not to do or say as what should be done or said. Comprehensive planning takes time. As you plan, take time to understand the scenarios that may result in a crisis, the optics that may accompany that situation, and the basics of when and how to respond.
Crisis management can help your company prepare for a number of anticipatory challenges and potential crises — from internal wrongdoings and bad press to natural disasters and reputation blows. When it comes to a crisis in the workplace, research shows that the areas that make employers most vulnerable are corporate reputation (73%), cyber-crime (70%), and rumors (68%). CSG is an award-winning crisis communications agency that helps organizations best prepare for and respond to all types of crises, including:
- Bad press
- Business or product issues
- Customer or client actions
- Legal actions against the company
- Natural disasters
- Partner actions
- Personnel/employee actions
- Regulatory issues
- Social media backlash
What Are the 3 Stages of Crisis Communication?
While no two crises are the same, every crisis response features three stages: pre-crisis, crisis and post-crisis, which should be strategically mapped out in every crisis communication plan.
The first stage of crisis communication involves identifying every potential threat to a company’s reputation and determining solutions and strategies to minimize the risk of a PR crisis.
Once the crisis communication team creates a plan, it is shared with every team member so everyone understands their role, communication order and other systems required during a time of crisis.
Consider these pre-crisis stage best practices:
- Update your crisis management process annually.
- Conduct a practice exercise once a year to consistently update your management plan and team.
- Pre-draft legal-approved messaging for general crisis statements.
When a crisis happens, your crisis communication team should have a response prepared as soon as possible — and identify the best communication channels for sharing messaging.
Consider these crisis stage best practices:
- Create an initial response within an hour of the incident.
- Review all facts before making comments.
- Ensure the identified spokesperson is properly briefed.
The post-crisis phase includes the time period of returning to “business as usual.” During this phase, the crisis communication team may begin reputation repair tactics, change necessary policies and protocols or engage in further investigations.
Consider these best practices for managing the post-crisis phase:
- Deliver any information regarding the cause of the crisis or updates to stakeholders as soon as possible.
- Communicate investigation findings and developments.
- Analyze the effectiveness of the crisis communication team and apply key learnings to future crisis preparedness.
Common Crisis Communication Challenges and Mistakes to Avoid
When it comes to crisis comms strategies and best practices, the nuances and crisis scenarios that emerge are as unique as any business, but there are general themes that can be understood even before engaging with external experts to develop a plan. Consider these common crisis communication challenges, themes and mistakes to avoid:
Too Much Information
All too often, the floodgates of communication swing open when an emergency situation occurs — overwhelming leadership with information. This high magnitude of information and the quality and truthfulness of communication can quickly become muddled. To mitigate the chances of this mistake, consider in advance how you’ll get information out to team members and external audiences. With the right technology and communication hierarchy in place, you can establish a centralized dashboard to inform all relevant stakeholders and monitor a crisis situation in real-time.
Too Little Information
While too much information can be detrimental, so can too little information. In crisis scenarios, information should never be funneled through just one channel. Critical information should always be exchanged through multiple communication channels. Determining which channels should be leveraged and prioritized will be unique to each organization and its stakeholders. Integrating the right software into your communications strategy in advance will allow you to send messaging in bulk, through multiple channels, at the literal click of a button.
Limited Contact Information
Contact information is one of the easiest things to plan before a crisis occurs, but oftentimes is overlooked. Many organizations don’t have stakeholder information stored in one place — or the right place. An effective crisis communication plan will create an easily accessible contact list that can be instantly segmented by category, which will save valuable time in an emergency.
By nature, crisis and emergency situations are difficult to plan for, however, much can be done to prepare for the unexpected — especially in a calm environment and clear headspace. Brainstorming hypothetical crises your organization could potentially face based on your industry and company history is a great place to start. Once you’ve identified a few crisis categories, you can start to draft generic holding messages to serve as crisis templates and frameworks.
Lack of Visibility
The final communication step in a crisis involves recipient open and read time. With the right communications technology set up in advance of a crisis, you’ll be able to monitor who has received your message with real-time tracking software. Should key stakeholders miss an important message, you’ll be able to escalate your actions immediately. When crisis strikes, time is your most precious resource. By utilizing every communication tool at your disposal, your organization can ensure it’s working for you — not against you — when the unexpected occurs.
How to Choose a Crisis Communication Agency?
Searching for a trusted partner to help your organization prepare a personalized crisis communication and reputation management plan? The right crisis communications team will give your organization the right crisis communication tips, resources, personalized strategy, peace of mind, and preparation to confidently weather any storm — no matter how unexpected. To find a marketing partner that fits your vision for your company, follow these steps.
Set Your Objectives
What objectives do you want to achieve with crisis communication that are unique to your organization, industry and key stakeholders? Honing in on your organization’s unique goals will help you find a partner that has experience in the exact areas you’re targeting.
Create a Budget
Budget is important when searching for the right marketing partner. Being transparent with your expectations, limitations and budget is key to identifying an expert team that can make the most of your resources.
Research Crisis Communication Agencies
When evaluating crisis communication agencies, consider their website, social media channels and other telling elements, such as:
Write a List of Questions to Ask
Asking the right questions is a great way to determine which crisis comms agency will be the best fit for your organization — especially during vulnerable situations. Consider the following questions:
- What can you do for my company?
- How much is this going to cost me?
- How will we communicate on an ongoing basis?
- How will we work together to navigate internal and external crises?
- What is the timeline for implementation?
- Who do I talk to if I have other questions, comments, or concerns?
Meet with the key stakeholders of your company to help them understand what you’re trying to accomplish by hiring a crisis communication agency. Communication and transparency are essential when selecting a new vendor or supplier — especially when it comes to topics as sensitive as crisis comms. Having internal alignment on the matter will help ensure that you choose an agency suited to your values, goals and projected circumstances.
Once you decide to hire a crisis communication agency, it’s important to effectively share working expectations and ongoing assignments with everyone on your team. Now is the time to set parameters for communication, such as designating a company liaison who talks to the marketing agency and setting up communication channels and systems.
Onboard Your Crisis Communication Agency
After you’ve selected the right partner, it’s time to onboard your new agency and begin crafting your personalized crisis response strategies together.
Create Your Crisis Communication Strategy With Us
What is crisis communication? The investment in planning for the worst so your company ends up with the best outcome. With a tailored plan in place to anticipate both internal and external forces that can create challenges for your organization, your team can best weather every crisis situation — when timing is everything.
Contact us today if you’re searching for a partner to navigate communication in crisis. As an award-winning crisis communications agency, CSG partners with proactive clients searching to protect and bolster their reputation, brand image and key stakeholders through times of crisis and reputational issues.