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An Insider’s Tips On Crisis Communications

Imagine. You open up your email first thing in the morning and are hit with an onslaught of urgent messages from your team – all labeled CRISIS. It’s a scenario that most business leaders must face at some point, but one for which they are often ill-prepared. And in the days of social media, a crisis can build from a small glitch to a major brand disaster in a matter of hours, as Peloton is now experiencing first hand.

When the phrase crisis management is uttered, most business leaders and communications professionals think of the Tylenol bottle tampering crisis or Domino’s viral video that revealed unsanitary work conditions. But a crisis doesn’t need to be on a scale that large in order to damage your brand’s reputation. Shipping delays, consistently poor customer service or perceived unequal hiring practices can all lead to a crisis.

So how do you prepare? And what do you do when a crisis hits? Based on my 20 years managing crisis communications for companies like Sprint, MillerCoors and others, here are some tried and tested practices:

1) Bring in crisis communications experts. Most communications partners, including RAISE, have experience managing crisis communications for their clients. No matter the issue, you want to ensure you have experts ready to evaluate the situation, rapidly put a plan in place and execute it as flawlessly as possible. Crises should not be left to chance.

2) Have a mock plan in place. Build out a crisis plan template with a variety of different scenarios such as data breaches, executive or employee misconduct, product recalls, safety issues, and more. Include emergency contact information for all executives and other key personnel included. You can’t predict every challenge down the road but having messages and an action plan in place for commonplace scenarios will give you a leg up when everything hits the fan.

3) Identify your main spokesperson. You can, and should, appoint a dedicated spokesperson before a crisis takes place. For larger corporations, this is often a communications executive. Smaller companies and start-ups are best served by using the CEO. Importantly, make sure your spokesperson is well-prepared to discuss the issue at hand and knows how to stay on message.

4) Develop your messaging and approach early. In most instances, it’s best to get out ahead of the market as soon as you know there’s a problem. Do research into the issue – who it impacted, how it started, etc. Determine if your spokesperson will hold Q&As on the topic or issue prepared statements.

5) Be honest. It’s far better to say, “I don’t know” or “We’re looking into it” than to make the situation worse by offering inaccurate information. The old adage, “Honesty is the best policy” applies to crisis management. As such, it’s important to get the facts out and do so as quickly as possible

6) Use your social channels: Social can be a tool for good and bad in a crisis. Managed correctly, the very channel that amplifies the crisis can amplify your response. Be sure you are continuously monitoring your social channels and responding to comments quickly and appropriately.

When the crisis is over, it’s important to evaluate what you’ve learned and then move on. In most cases, brands can weather a crisis if they demonstrate that they’ve fixed the problem. But the market is unlikely to forgive you twice.

The bottom line is that when a crisis is managed effectively, damage can be kept to a minimum. That’s why the right expertise, strategy and execution is so critical.

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