2020 has been a year of crisis. There have been innumerable instances and moments over the past few months that have sparked outrage, seen powerful people lose important roles, and witnessed publicly quoted companies take catastrophic hits to their share prices; and inevitably, the customers and public suffer. Of course, most of these crises have been brought on or exacerbated by the global impact of COVID. Others have been self-inflicted by companies and organisations not quite reading the public mood. More have been brought to our attention due to increased customer and media scrutiny, and amplified by the power of social, and indeed, traditional media to hold people and organisations to account.
2020 has shown how vital responsive engagement is – we are working with a growing number of our clients, nationally and internationally, delivering communications strategies and plans to help mitigate the operational and reputational risks that are arising in this ‘never normal’ world. While the crises are many, and oftentimes seem “new”, the principles of good crisis communications remain constant.
Adapt the plan
Hopefully, you will have had a crisis communications plan in place well before any crisis hits. Often, a genuine crisis for your organisation will be something unexpected. For example, you might not have envisaged the need for specific plans responding to a global health pandemic’s impact on your business strategy, however, the guiding principles will still hold. A comprehensive plan should lay out appropriate communication strategies, an approach for monitoring any and all relevant information, processes for approving and disseminating information and, crucially, the roles and responsibilities of an approved crisis communications team.
Stay on message
Key messages are the main points of information you want your audience to hear, understand, and remember. Effective messaging will align with the interests and concerns most important to your stakeholders. During a crisis, it is paramount to ensure that your messaging is simple, credible, accurate, and delivered in a timely and consistent manner.
Identify everyone in your stakeholder ecosystem and then create or update a comprehensive contact list. Ensure that you are transparent and share what is known and unknown about the situation as it relates to your organisation and its key stakeholders. Optimise your communication channels to distribute audience-specific messaging and materials where appropriate.
In any crisis, those delivering the message to stakeholders are vital in helping key audiences better understand how the organisation is responding. How a spokesperson handles public and media queries is vital in establishing trust and credibility in an organisation. Make sure your spokesperson is trained to deliver your agreed messages through the chosen channel of communication competently, whether it be live broadcasted conferences, or conducing themselves appropriately on their social media channels.
Adapt and improvise
Monitor and evaluate your efforts on an ongoing basis and change your communications approach as needed. Regroup daily and assess the efficacy of your approach. Keep track of any learnings during the crisis that will help you in future. Monitor how the conversation is evolving, address misinformation and gather feedback about the response. Each day of a crisis can, and often will, bring new challenges and it is important that you are agile enough to adapt.
Nobody likes a crisis, however burying your head in the sand and hoping one won’t happen to you or your organisation is an unwise strategy. We always encourage our clients and partners to maintain an attitude of preparedness and collaboration. Ultimately, it is better to try to keep a bad thing from happening than it is to fix the bad thing once it has happened. We also know first-hand how vital good communication is to stakeholders, both internally and externally, to help minimise fear and uncertainty in these undoubtedly uncertain times.
Join us for more insights from our expert speaker, Martyn Rosney, Director of ReputationInc.
Martyn will lead an interactive and highly practical half day webinar on Crisis Communications on Friday 9th October 2020 – 9.30am – 1.00pm. This session is expected to be well attended, secure your place now.
Author: Martyn Rosney
As a director of ReputationInc, Martyn works in all areas of corporate reputation management for his Irish and international clients in the financial services, FMCG, retail, professional services, pharma and tech sectors. His expertise areas include strategic issues and crisis advice, stakeholder engagement, executive profiling, media relations, media training and long-term reputation management programmes.
From Killarney, Co. Kerry he holds a master’s degree in Public Relations from DIT and he is also an honours graduate of University College Cork’s Commerce degree with a major in marketing and minor in management.
Since early in his career, Martyn has been passionate about reputation management and its benefits for his clients. His enthusiasm for his profession coupled with his client work has seen him represent Ireland at the Young PR Lions competition at the Cannes Lions and he was the inaugural winner of the inaugural PRII/PRCA/CIPR Young Communications Professional of the Year for Ireland. He was also the first Irish based reputation professional to feature on PR Week UK’s 30 Under 30.