THE X’S AND O’S OF CRISIS COMMUNICATIONS
When the air cools and leaves change, you know fall has arrived. The season means different things to different people, but for me, it means one thing: football.
Prior to kickoff, coaches prepare a game plan. These plans outline a comprehensive strategy for how their team will respond to a variety of situations – both expected and unexpected – so they can execute at a high level when the time comes. When teams don’t adjust well to unanticipated circumstances – injuries, personnel changes, etc. – they rarely succeed. The same goes for handling PR during a crisis. So, in honor of football season, we’ve outlined a few tips to help build out and execute a crisis communications “game plan” for your clients:
DRAW IT UP
There’s a lot to consider when putting together a crisis communications plan. For each anticipated scenario, you need to have a written holding statement in place, or at the very least a template with placeholders for pending details. It’s also important to prepare messaging and procedures for any lower-level employees who may be approached by media.
You will need to identify a spokesperson for the specific scenario. The primary spokesperson should not only be able to speak well to the technicalities of the crisis, but also be comfortable in front of a camera, knowing how to best tackle questions and bridge to alternative messaging when necessary.
Having your points of contact mapped out ahead of time is crucial to ensure you’re working as efficiently as possible to address the issue at hand. Prior to releasing anything to the media, reach out to your field contact or whomever would have the latest updates to collect any available details.
DO A WALK THROUGH
You can spend weeks putting together your game plan, but if you don’t practice, you’re not going to be at your best. Whether it’s an in-depth crisis communications strategy or a few prepared responses to a minor problem, take the time to walk your clients through each step of the plan. Make sure you’re both clear on the spokespeople, key messages and timetable to ensure no one is caught off guard.
USE THE CLOCK TO YOUR ADVANTAGE
With the evolution of social media, news spreads like wildfire with the tap of a finger. And when you’re in crisis mode, the clock is always running. Depending on the scenario, silence may come across as an admission of guilt to the public, so you’ll need to work quickly to update your media contacts on your response.
While it’s important to respond in a timely manner and get ahead of the story, make sure to have every available detail before releasing any statements. Once your message is delivered, there’s no taking it back. You can always provide more details later, but retracting information or reversing your position can be near impossible in a crisis.
DON'T BE AFRAID TO CALL AN AUDIBLE
Based on your client’s history, there may be several crisis scenarios that you can anticipate and adequately prepare for ahead of time. However, there will be situations where you’re ready to release a statement to the media, but new information calls for a change in strategy at the last moment.
In these scenarios, take a step back, try to see the whole picture and adjust accordingly. If needed, it’s all right to call a timeout and go back to the drawing board to develop new messaging. If you’re in a situation where you need to respond to media ASAP, let them know you’re still gathering details and can provide information as soon as it’s available.
THE FINAL WHISTLE
No crisis is the same, but having a detailed plan in place for responding to media and establishing your client’s position will put them in the best light possible. Work quickly, tell the truth and always keep your stakeholders in mind. When the lights come on, you’ll need to execute, ready or not.
To help establish a crisis communications game plan for your company, give us a ring today!