The Lumina PR Playbook | PR and Crisis Communications
One thing almost all business crises have in common is their unexpected arrival. While some people in or around an organization see trouble coming, its arrival is typically abrupt, catching most of its stakeholders by surprise. Crises are, by definition, disruptive events – sometimes even to the point of threatening a firm’s continued existence. At a minimum, they are an embarrassment, potentially damaging to the firm’s reputation.
Of course, not every organization will experience a crisis. But over the course of years, the likelihood increases that one will happen. If and when a crisis does materialize, the company’s response can be pivotal in determining whether it will recover quickly, possibly even growing from the incident, or if it makes matters worse by further eroding public trust in its words, actions, products, or services.
Crises can arise from all sorts of situations. They can include a product or service failure, financial issues, data leaks, bad behavior by employees or executives, natural disasters, terrorist or criminal activity, and facility failures, as well as many other causes. As some recent examples in the news, SolarWinds hack, Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack, and the COVID-19 pandemic’s disruption in services across the globe. Now is the time to look critically at your own business to figure out what the most obvious avenues of crisis could be or you are next in the headlines.
The role of public relations in a crisis is to restore confidence in the organization, its leadership, its practices, its products or services, and to do so as quickly as possible. The details of what a public relations counselor can do to help will vary with the specifics of the situation. But the one thing that can make a world of difference in crafting a plan to deal with possible crisis situations, sharing that plan with employees throughout the organization, and rehearsing it often enough that if a crisis arises, people will be able to respond in a coherent and constructive fashion.
At a minimum, a crisis communication plan defines a crisis response team and assigns personnel to staff it. Their roles and responsibilities should be outlined in the plan. Names, positions, and contact information of those who need to be notified promptly – whether inside or outside the organization – must be included and updated regularly.
The resources available for issuing a public response, as well as the procedures to be followed in using them, need to be clearly identified. And the sequence of steps that need to be taken to resolve a crisis must be spelled out. Among the specifics:
- Making sure employees at every level know there is a plan to reduce the chaos that normally accompanies a crisis and to familiarize themselves with their responsibilities under that plan.
- Assigning knowledgeable personnel to assess the situation, ascertain the facts, and determine the appropriate response/actions
- Establishing who will be the public spokesperson for the organization and how they can be reached
- Crafting factual messages that carry the approval and authority of senior management
- Being honest with the press and stakeholders about what is and isn’t known
- Keeping in mind that you and your audiences are all humans who respond to crises accordingly
- Using your employee network to augment the distribution of approved news and talking points
- Establishing listening systems to monitor third-party commentary about the crisis and your response
- Holding after-the-fact meetings to assess the effectiveness of the plan, the success of your response, and any needed changes.
At its core, crisis communication is a classic example of the difference between “reacting” and “responding”. A reaction in this case – is instant, driven by preconceived beliefs and assumed understandings of a given situation. A response, on the other hand, will be a more measured consideration of the long-term effects and provides the opportunity to stay in line with your company’s core values.
If your organization could benefit from having a response plan in place (versus a reaction plan), you should reach out. We can help.