Can any organization be a crisis communication pro? Absolutely, why not? Being crisis-ready, crisis-intelligent, isn’t a mysterious quality that only a few people or organizations possess. It’s a skill that gets developed and honed over time, with effort and attention.
So what would it take for your organization, your team, to be considered a crisis communication pro?
To be considered a crisis comms pro, you need to prove that you are a crisis comms pro! And although no one wishes to face a crisis, the reality is that with all the risks out there today, the odds of your organization avoiding a crisis forever are not in your favor. The good news however, is that putting in the time now can help get you that title.
That said, the following are 5 important steps that, if done thoughtfully, will help you along the way of positioning your organization as a crisis communication pro.
Step 1: Identify the risks that leave your organization vulnerable
If you don’t assess the risks that leave you vulnerable, how can you ever prepare to defend against – or better yet prevent them? This is the first step, and here’s a good way to tackle this task:
- Assemble your team and conduct a risk assessment / vulnerability audit. Together, brainstorm all the worse-case scenarios, vulnerabilities within operations, areas of communication weakness, etc. Remember that, when it comes to today’s risk, if you can think it, it can happen.
- Categorize your risks. Once you’ve identified the main risks, categorize them. Here, you should have two categories: preventable risk and unpreventable risk.
- Prevent the preventable. You wanna know what real crisis communication pros do? They understand that crisis prevention is the best form of crisis management. Therefore, your next step is to develop a plan of ACTION to prevent the preventable risks.
- Plan for the unpreventable. Once you have a plan set in motion to eliminate the preventable risks that leave your organization vulnerable, start planning for the unpreventable ones. The following steps will help you do this.
Helpful read: How To Identify your Crisis Plan’s Blind Spots
Step 2: Understand your stakeholders
Crisis communication is all about, you guessed it, communication! The magical thing about this new digital landscape is that it gives you the technology and the tools to reach your core audiences and stakeholders right in their pockets. However, in order to do this, you have to understand them, their habits and their preferences as deeply as possible. This means:
- Who are your stakeholders? In each type of crisis scenario (which you identified in step 1 above), who are the key stakeholders (both internal and external) that you need to communicate with? Make a list.
- Where are they online? Where do they hang out online (if they do, in fact hang out online)? Are you currently on these platforms and taking part in the dialogue?
- How does each stakeholder group prefer to consume their media? This includes, what apps they use on a regular basis, their preferred means of content consumption and everything else you can find out.
The more you understand about your stakeholders, the better you will be able to strategize effective ways to communicate with them in – and out of – a crisis.
Helpful read: Crisis Communication Strategy: Take a Cue from BBC
Step 3: Understand today’s crisis realities and challenges
The crisis communications landscape has changed. It has become, in large part, digital. But though these changes present unprecedented opportunities for crisis communication, they also present many risks and challenges. In order to leverage the opportunities, you need to identify and understand the risks and challenges, which include:
- The real-time news cycle. Everything happens in real-time today and, unless your actively listening and paying attention, it has become increasingly hard to stay ahead of the news cycle and position your organization as the voice of credibility and leadership in a crisis. It is certainly not impossible (far from it), but it’s only by being prepared that you will be successful at this.
- The unpredictability of this new digital landscape. Never knowing if something is going to go viral against you in a negative way… but wait! There’s a method behind the unpredictability. Understand human behavior and combine that with a prudent, risk assessing mind and you’ll minimize the risks.
- The fact that every member of your team is a spokesperson for your organization, like it or not. Have you prepared for this? Does you entire team understand what is expected of them in a crisis and where to direct incoming inquiries if they are not the designated spokesperson? These are important questions that need to be answered.
Only by identifying the risks and strategizing ways to overcome them, will you truly be able to leverage the boundless opportunities that this new digital landscape presents to your organization in a crisis.
Step 4: Do the prep work
Yes, the above qualifies as prep work, but what I’m referring to here is to proactively position your organization as the voice of credibility and leadership within your industry and community now, before you ever find yourself faced with a crisis. This involves:
- Building an audience and taking part in the dialogue.
- Providing your audience with relevant and engaging information that reaches them on an emotional level.
- Developing a reputation based on transparency, authenticity, trust and credibility.
- Building a corporate culture that instinctively sees opportunity from every risk, and empowering your frontline (and entire team) to act on the opportunities in real-time.
All of this takes continual effort. People like to say “if you build it, they will come,” and I hate to break it to you, but there’s so much noise out there, so many organizations competing for your stakeholders’ attention, that just because you build it doesn’t mean they will come. Positioning your organization as the voice of credibility and leadership requires relentless effort and commitment. But the juice is definitely worth the squeeze.
Inspiring listen: TCIP #020 – Managing The Ebola Crisis With Bill Boyd
Step 5: Practice makes perfect
No one ever wants to experience a crisis, but in a crisis you hope to have experience. Having a plan is a good start, but it’s not enough. Neither are those dated table top exercises that organizations have grown accustom to over the years. With the technology available to us today, there should be a better way to test your plan and your team – and there is.
A good crisis simulation allows you to experience every aspect of a real crisis, without having to wait for a real crisis to strike (thankfully!). It allows your team to experience the real-time news cycle, the escalation and noise that happens on social media, the time constraints and pressures of keeping key stakeholder groups in the loop in real-time, what it feels like to deal with the media, and so much more. The right crisis simulation will:
- Test and help improve your crisis plan.
- Help your team develop instinctive crisis skills, rather than having to fall back on a plan.
- Provide your organization with the experience needed to become a crisis communication pro.
Testing your plan and your team on a regular basis is probably the most strategic and intelligent thing you can do… that is, if you truly want to become a crisis communication pro.
Helpful read: The Value of a Crisis Simulation
You have five detailed steps here and each one requires thought, effort and time. What are you waiting for?
Author of Crisis Ready: Building an Invincible Brand in an Uncertain World, Melissa Agnes is a leading authority on crisis preparedness, reputation management, and brand protection. Agnes is a coveted keynote speaker, commentator, and advisor to some of today’s leading organizations faced with the greatest risks. Learn more about Melissa and her work here.