We have said it before, and we will say it again, no matter what industry you are in or the size of your business, you will likely find yourself in need of crisis communication at one time or another. During our time as journalists and in the public relations industry, we have seen these situations handled well and poorly. They can forever impact your business’ reputation, so make sure you know the dos and don’ts of crisis communication.
- Rush a Response – When it comes to crisis communication, you have one chance to get it right. Your first response might as well be your only response, so it is important that the messaging is appropriate. A crisis communication situation is a lot of pressure and stress, and when it comes to the media, it is important to respond promptly. But hear us when we say it is more important to get that response right.
- Wait Too Long – On the other hand, don’t think you have all the time in the world in a crisis situation. As we tell all our clients, no response is a response, and it doesn’t look good. Many times in these situations we see businesses opting to wait, hoping it blows over. In our experience, that business usually ends up trying to respond 24 – 48 hours later, when the story has already spread. By that point, the damage is often already done, and you certainly don’t look like you are on top of things.
- Respond on Social Media – A crisis communication inquiry may come in on social media. That doesn’t mean that is how you should reply. You can always ask for an email address to send a formal response. A response on social media, especially on a public account, will be there forever. Another media outlet can easily screengrab that response and use it, and you never want a character limit to dictate your response.
- Have a Plan – Like it or not, every business should be prepared for a crisis situation. That means knowing who to notify, how to get in touch with them after hours and who will make the final decisions on how to respond. Having a PR partner with experience handling crisis communication to help guide you through these situations is a good idea.
- Ensure Messaging is Consistent – This is something we cannot say enough. Internal and external messaging needs to be consistent. We can’t tell you how many times an internal memo regarding a crisis incident ends up in the hands of the media. It can and will become your messaging, especially if it is the only messaging out there. Make sure your messaging starts and stays consistent and that it is in line with your business’ core values.
- Take Crisis Communication Seriously – A crisis communication situation is serious, and it should be treated that way. It deserves a formal statement, and it does matter who is issuing that statement. If you want the media and the public to believe you understand the severity of the situation, the response should come from the CEO (or equivalent) of your company. A statement should always have attribution.
As P. T. Barnum said, “There is no such thing as bad publicity.” Remember that even a crisis situation can be an opportunity for you to message who you are and what is important to you. When handled well, it will be nothing more than yesterday’s news.