It can be hard to feel in control when a crisis strikes. They always seem to happen at the worst time, but businesses can be prepared with a communications plan when a crisis does rear its ugly head. Before we dive into planning, let’s break down the basics.
How do you know if you’re in a crisis?
Crises come in all shapes and sizes and can occur in any industry. A crisis can be defined as a difficult or intense situation that puts the business at risk. Sometimes it becomes industry wide like the 2008 financial crisis.
Here are four types of crises that organizations can face:
1. Personnel Crisis
Employees are the heart of the business, and while they can be your greatest asset, they can also cause serious harm. Unethical and illegal behaviors may not run rampant at work, but it takes just one bad decision for things to spiral out of control. Sexual harassment claims, ill-advised social posts or unlawful use of confidential information are just a few examples of employee misconduct. A crisis can result from seemingly small mistakes too. Employees with a social media presence are representatives of the brand, even if posting from a personal account. If an offensive post goes viral, you can bet the company will be associated with it.
Click the link below to read more about what to do if company leaders are putting the business on shaky ground.
2. Organizational Crisis
Any major situation that has a negative effect on employees, customers, investors or other stakeholder groups can be classified as an organizational crisis. It can include intentional misconduct like deceiving customers for financial benefit or unintentional events like product recalls and food-safety emergencies.
3. Technological Crisis
Businesses today rely heavily on technology. When it crashes, leaks sensitive information or is hacked, there could be loss of profits and loss of trust. Cyber security is a big risk and data breaches can wreak havoc on a business.
Read these blogs to learn more about what to do if faced with a cyber data breach.
4. Natural Disaster
Hurricanes, earthquakes and tornadoes can cause an incredible amount of structural and financial damage. A natural disaster crisis could become a reality if the company is headquartered in an area where extreme weather occurs. Safety precautions and back-up plans are a must in this type of emergency.
What is Crisis Communication?
Crisis communication is a component of public relations that protects a brand’s image and lessens reputational damage that may occur as a result of a crisis. The way a company responds in a crisis and how it communicates next steps plays a critical role in its recovery efforts. Important factors of crisis communications include who you communicate with, the medium in which you’re communicating and the tone of your message. Reputation is built on trust, so creating a thoughtful communications strategy is crucial.
Who Needs Crisis Communications?
The short answer: Everyone. Companies and organizations of all sizes and in every industry can stumble into a crisis.
Now that we know the basics, let’s get down to planning.
What is a Crisis Communications Plan?
One very important part of your crisis-management strategy is the communications plan. A prompt response should always follow a crisis. Expect to be put under a microscope and scrutinized at every turn. Each stakeholder group should get a well-thought-out response, starting with employees.
What are the Elements of a Crisis Communications Plan?
Crisis communications plans vary by company and industry. Charities and nonprofits are just as vulnerable as the rest of the marketplace.
Every type of organization can consider these three elements in their plan:
1. The Crisis Team
A dedicated crisis team is essential to any communications plan. It typically includes, but is not limited to, department heads, a designated spokesperson (and a backup), a PR partner and a member from the legal team. Everyone’s role should be clear from the start to ensure a seamless communication strategy.
2. Policies & Procedures
The plan's policies and procedures section should include a set of guidelines that detail rules for media interactions, how to handle customer questions, what can and can't be said on social media and more.
3. Prepared Statements & Messaging Points
Prepare statements ahead of time to avoid knee-jerk responses and to spare yourself from the review and approval process, which can slow things down. Answers to frequently asked questions and key talking points are also helpful additions to this section.
KFC: How One Company Executed a Successful Crisis Communications Plan
In 2018, the unthinkable happened. KFC ran out of chicken in the U.K. due to operational issues. They were forced to shut down hundreds of restaurants, impacting many hungry fans. What could have been a serious blow to its brand reputation, was saved by a humble, yet humorous public apology.
KFC teamed up with their creative agency to run a full-page ad featuring an empty chicken bucket with the letters of its name rearranged to spell "FCK" and the message beneath it started with "we're sorry." It also kept consumers closely informed on new developments and answered questions via social media.
KFC's crisis response can be considered a success because it was timely, sincere and stayed true to the brand's tone of voice.
What Do You Do After a Crisis?
After the dust starts to settle, it's time to earn back trust. A solid public relations strategy can help rebuild your brand's reputation.
Follow these steps:
Communicate on a Regular Basis Post-Crisis
Don't let your communications fizzle out. Continue to keep everyone abreast of new company developments and progress made towards fixing the problem. Make it a priority to act and keep promises that were made.
Reestablish Credibility with Positive Press Opportunities
Counteract negative press through PR opportunities that achieve positive brand awareness. Depending on the severity of the crisis, it may take some time to get back into the public's good graces. Reporters will want to bring up your messy past. Subject matter experts and media spokespeople should be prepared with talking points and can refer to the crisis communications plan for guidelines on what to say. Click the image below for more interview tips:
Create a Content Marketing Strategy to Boost SEO
The problem with crises is that they become the topic of conversation when your brand is brought up. Rather than finding positive articles and informative content, a search may bring up news of the crisis instead. Over time, some of it will die off, but there will always be some negative content that sticks around. Unfortunately, it could stick to the first page on Google. If you create a well-rounded digital marketing mix of your PR efforts and original content, your search results will start to lean in a more positive direction. Applying SEO best practices will enhance your efforts.
Not sure where to start? Click the image to download our free ebook to learn how paid, earned, shared and owned opportunities can work together to create an effective digital marketing plan.