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Crisis communications - an inside guide

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David Gilbert

VP Americas

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Oct 4, 2018
5 min read
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Crisis management is the response an organization needs to take in the event of unforeseen emergencies or disasters to minimize the harm to the organization, its stakeholders, or the general public. These events can include natural disasters like earthquakes, industrial incidents such as oil leaks, technological crises such as data breaches, and a range of other possible scenarios including malevolence, terrorism, and other man-made disasters.

The common outcome of all of these situations is financial loss, reputation harm, and potential risk to human life. Unfortunately, incidents are inevitable for businesses of all sizes, and without adequate internal and external communications when they do arise, consequences are compounded, including:

  • Breakdown of operational crisis responses

  • Uninformed and unhappy stakeholders

  • Negatively impacted public relations

  • Extended time frame to full resolution of the crisis situation

Crisis communications framework

1. Have a plan: A written crisis management plan should be in place, which includes specific actions that will be taken in the event of a crisis or potential threat. The key objectives during any crisis are to protect any individual (employee or public) who may be at risk, ensure that all stakeholders are kept informed and that ultimately the organization survives.

2. Identify a spokesperson: A key spokesperson needs to be identified, prepared, and kept as up-to-date as possible to ensure that the media, staff, customers, and the public are kept informed with a clear, consistent message. This is an essential function of any public-facing organization.

3. Be honest and open: In our connected age, it’s no longer possible to hope that information can be kept from the media or general public, so a policy of openness and transparency is essential to maintaining trust. This transparency must be projected through all communications channels: news interviews, social media, internal announcements, etc.

4. Keep employees informed: Employees are the main conduit to keeping communications flowing between all relevant stakeholders, so it’s essential to keep the workforce informed with all relevant up-to-date information. This component of crisis management planning also helps to prevent the circulation of incorrect rumors and potentially negative statements.

5. Customer and supplier communications: To protect your organization's reputation, information on any crisis should reach your customers and suppliers directly from you, and not from the media. Part of the crisis communications plan needs to include these vital stakeholders, and how to keep them updated throughout the event.

6. Update early and often: Be proactive and early with sharing news, even when the whole picture isn’t clear. It is better to over-communicate your crisis or emergency response than to allow rumors to fill the void. Start with summary statements on whatever is initially known, and provide updated action plans and new developments as early and as often as possible to stay ahead of the 24/7 news cycle.

7. Contingency plan: You'll want a crisis plan that accounts for as many detours as possible. This can come in the form of potential outages that require you to engage a secondary channel or potential issues like media interest that crops up during critical situations. To best address this, you'll want to look to other crisis responses (and maybe previous ones you've faced) to tackle unique scenarios.

8. Social media: Ensure that all the channels that your key stakeholders may be using are covered, not just the traditional areas in which critical statements were released, such as press releases or the company website. Nothing’s more damaging than incorrect information being live-Tweeted without your ability to see and respond with facts and the appropriate damage control.

State of the art crisis communications technology

Communications planning

Having a clearly defined disaster management plan in place for different scenarios cuts down response times, improves the accuracy of contact, and ensures the right people are able to be reached in a timely manner.

Modern crisis communications tools should have the capability of adapting to all possible scenarios and plans.

Multiple communication channels

Make sure to leverage all available resources, including omnichannel platforms (like Whispir). Messages should be sent on the appropriate channels needed to make sure the entire team is reached, including SMS, voice, rich push messages, or email.

Message templates

Message templates should be prepared with specifics that can be rapidly altered during incidents, thereby saving time by providing pre-defined communication and response options. You might not be able to dot all the i's and cross all the t's, but templates get you closer to deployment during an unexpected event.

Message automation

Where possible, communications platforms should be integrated with monitoring systems, allowing details to be auto-populated into message templates. Tickets can be raised automatically and sent directly to the resolution team members.

Two-way conversation flow

It’s not enough to just send messages, there needs to be a system in place to track receipts, allow the receiver to respond as needed, and escalate when required. Connecting with your audience during a crisis is the first step to making good use of an integrated communications platform.

Best practices

Crisis communications programs are built around cross-channel platforms, which provide interactive, responsive communications, comprehensive reporting, and message delivery status transparency for key staff and senior management and/or stakeholders.

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Communications automation and workflow acceleration, combined with integrated monitoring systems, provide BCM leaders with a unique and powerful opportunity to advance their organization's resilience posture, while also streamlining day-to-day organizational communications processes.

The best defense is a good offense

Incidents affecting business functions are a daily occurrence, and without proper management, have the ability to escalate into potential damage and even financial crisis that can risk an organization’s ability to survive. Effective planning and communications are key to ensuring not only risk management but also turning circumstances into opportunities for building new processes that become a source of sustainable, technology-driven competitive advantage in good times and in bad.

Whispir provides the necessary changes to your crisis communication plan to help take your emergency response to the next level.

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