11 Steps To An Effective Crisis Communication Strategy
1. Design Your Crisis Communication Plan The first phase in Project Management is initiating thought processes by analyzing all available and relevant information about the potential crisis and understanding who the stakeholders are. The stakeholders may include employees, customers, investors, board members or even the general public. A deep understanding of all the possible situations in which crisis communication is needed, as well as the potential risk exposure for the company and its stakeholders, are critical components to understanding how to mitigate the risk and how to respond to it.
Next comes the project planning phase in which a budget to implement the crisis communications plan is determined, cost control measures are created, and the schedule and work plan are defined.
Once the project management plan is mapped, the project team begins executing the tasks associated with building all the components that go into an effective crisis communications plan discussed in Steps 2 through 11 below.
2. Appoint Your Crisis Communication Team Members The determinative factor in how effectively your company will handle a crisis is the appointment of the right people to your crisis management team. It's not only important that the CEO or president be on board and well trained. Every individual appointed to the team, as well as every department head that has a role in the crisis response, must be informed and engaged in the process with a committed sense of purpose. Your Company Culture must permeate every aspect of your crisis management team so everyone shares the goal to protect the company.
3. Train. Train. Train. Appropriate training and skill development are essential to help a crisis team and its lead spokesperson succeed in their jobs. Every team member must understand all other members' responsibilities and tasks so everyone can do every job in the event a team member is unavailable in the midst of the crisis. The training systems to prepare your team apply all the way up to the CEO who should be trained and experienced in how to handle a crisis, how to speak to the public, communicate well with the employees,react on a timely basis and always be readyto answer employees’ specific questions.
When an emergency occurs, the most valuable skill a crisis spokesperson can possessis the communication skill of how to gain employees' attention, connect with employees, build trust in the workplace and make employees work towards the same goals.
Build your training program to address the technical aspects of crisis response, stress management as well as the development of good communication skills.
4. Practice. Practice. Practice. Having a plan and “feeling ready” are not the same as practicing scenariosand “being ready.” Research by Deloitte shows that there is a significant gap between people feeling ready and really being ready to cope with and handle crisis situations with only 32% saying their companies engage in crisis simulations or training. And, we know from the October 2019 PRNEWS/CS&A Survey that less than 23% actually practice their plans annually.
Schedule company wide crisis response drills at least annually to confirm your readiness to handle any contingency.
5. Understand Your Audience As with any communications strategy, the message must be targeted to a specific audience meant to hear it. The understanding of the stakeholders' perspectives and the ability to segment the messaging and methods of communication for a specific audience is crucial to a successful crisis communication response.
It is imperative that method of communication allows for rapid communication of critical information with a message that is clear and easy to understand. A company's failure to get people's attention and provide them with time critical information allows them to hear about the company's crisis from outside sources which is the the worst thing that can happen. Misinformation, disinformation, rumor and conjecture will destroy the best intentions of any crisis communication plan.
6. Deliver Messages That Matter And Avoid Noise Use your communications resources or Critical Mission's Corporate Communications resources, to craft messages that are clear and concise, head turning and attention grabbing. Most importantly they must be accurate and provide easy to follow instructions if action is required of the recipient.
It is also critical not to create the noise of an over flow of irrelevant information. Too much noise causes recipients to start ignoring messages breaking down the response and leading to poor results. Not every employee should receive every message during an emergency. This approach just slows down employees’ response times by overwhelming them. Ideally, your crisis communications process should be able to identify and target specific individuals and departments to ensure the most pertinent information gets to those who need it most.
A dedicated mobile application, or a Social Intranet with a mobile application, designed for the purpose of creating two-way communication channels with targeted real-time messaging in any location are effective tools. Members of your leadership, communication, HR or crisis management teams must be able to instantaneously deliver relevant information updating appropriate team members when needed.
7. Build Two-Way Communication Pathways Crisis communication should not be one-way. Your employees are a valuable asset in a crisis. They are the voice of the company facing the crisis. They can be a great source of emerging information and are often your strongest advocates on social media. Crisis communication should enable employees to join the two-way conversations, raise their concerns and ask questions.
8. Communicate In Real-Time Crises develop quickly and move rapidly. The communication infrastructure must support real-time distribution and response communication processes or you will always be playing catch-up.
The idea of using emails during a crisis is not only outdated but is also foolish when social intranets and purpose driven mobile applications exist to avoid your employees missing out on important company updates. Employers cannot afford to miss any opportunity to be responsive to a changing situation because their communications system does not allow real-time messaging.
Therefore, employers need to match the communication tools to the need and deploy a communication system that allows for targeted real-time messaging.
9. Messages Must Be Accurate and Consistent Companies are under a microscope of public and media scrutiny during crises raising the legal and financial risk levels. What the company cannot afford is inaccurate or inconsistent messaging.
When communicating with employees or the pubic, it is important to deliver the right information even if that sometimes means answering with “I don’t know”.
Giving the wrong information to the employees or the public can cause the spread of misinformation which can significantly hurt the employees’ trust and the public's trust. The effect is a damaged reputation and a tarnished brand that may never recover.
Your communications system must have a review process on outbound messages that may include the crisis team leader, an appointed executive or even legal.
10. Communicate Consistently Some companies tend to neglect or ignore their employees in a crisis, forgetting that what you do and say in a crisis matters. We covered this topic in our blog, "Retaining Furloughed Employees - What You Say Matters." The biggest mistake a company can make is going quiet in a crisis.
Unfortunately, many employers don’t communicate at all or have no understanding of their employees' level of engagement with crisis-related content. The failure to communicate and the lack of insight cause high levels of uncertainty and fear among employees, destroying company culture and reputation.
Therefore, consistent and transparent communication that allows for responsive feedback from employees is a must-have during a crisis.
11. Perform A Post-Crisis Review When the crisis is over, employers need to ask themselves:
“What did we learn from this?”
It is never easy to get through a crisis and the last thing most participants want to do is revisit it. However, experiential knowledge gained during a crisis must be used to improve the crisis strategy going forward. The application of the lessons learned will strengthen the companies ability to handle future events. The time to do this is when the experience is fresh in everyone's memory. Unfortunately, according to the 2019 PRNEWS/CS&A Survey, only 31% of companies have a formal post crisis review system in place to capture and share the lessons learned.
What should your post crisis process cover?
Here are the 5 questions every employer should address after the crisis:
What did we do right?
What did we do wrong?
How do we improve our crisis communication strategy next time?
What were the elements that had the biggest impact on how the crisis was handled?
How can we better train our crisis communications team and prepare our company to handle a crisis?
Effective communication is one of, if not the most important elements for responding effectively to a crisis.
With an effective crisis communications strategy in place, employers are able to create specific audiences based on various criteria, engage employees in two-way conversations, create personalized employee news feeds, and measure the engagement employees have with the internal content delivered to them.
Contact us for information about your crisis communications plan