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What you need to know about crisis communications

In today's digital climate, organizations must quickly cope with disruptive events that threaten to harm the interests of the organization, their stakeholders, and clients. Organizations that develop a Crisis Management Plan are better prepared to anticipate and proactively handle whatever challenges the future may hold. A vital component of a Crisis Management Plan is a solid Communications Strategy.


Here are 3 important things to keep in mind when developing your strategy:


1. LEAD, don't manage a crisis

  • Behavior and actions drive perception

  • Ownership, values, and authenticity count

During a crisis, you are not in control and most often the leavers of power are on the opposing side. During the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, BP was far from in control. A live camera from the ocean floor was steaming online 24/7 as a reminder of the devastating event that had taken place. BP's only weapon was their behavior. They quickly issued an apology and took ownership of the event, they promptly setup a remediation fund, and deployed thousands of employees and their executive leadership team to the field. BP owned this tragedy from start to finish. Stakeholders such as local residents will say BP did the right thing. Although you cannot make lemonade from apples, you can lead making apple juice.


2. BUILD crisis muscle

  • Assess your vulnerabilities and train often

  • Have a crisis communications infrastructure in place

You would not run a marathon or complete an Ironman without training, why would you tackle a crisis without being prepared? It's vital for organizations to take the time to assess vulnerabilities and plan responses ahead of time. It is equally as important to have basic communications infrastructure in place so that you don not waste time when a crisis occurs. Know who your decision makers are, how to contact them, and what you are communicating. Have contact information for your communications team, human resources, general counsel, security, and those you would need to contact on hand. In 2018, a Boston-based technology services firm experienced a major systems outage. This firm did not have a way to quickly communicate with their clients which lead to a lack of trust and a 15% decline in service contract renewals. By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.


3. KNOW your environment

  • Know the media landscape

  • Know your audience

News and social media are more combustible and move faster than they ever have. It is imperative to calibrate your communications strategy to your environment. Surveys show record levels of mistrust in corporations, government, and institutions. You must know your audience, have established relationships with the media and key influencers, and have a sense of prioritization. In the wake of the 2017 Equifax data breach, Equifax focused their communications on regulatory authorities instead of their key stakeholders, their customers. There is no questions that communicating with regulatory authorities was important, but the primary audience was the customer. Equifax failed to communicate to its customers timely and sensitively that the breach was secured, what exposure they faced, and how Equifax would defend and protect them. In an environment where everyone with an opinion has a bullhorn, keep those opinions in your favor.


" It takes 20 years to build a reputation and 5 minutes to ruin it. " - Warren Buffet


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