Working in a communications team in any business makes you the voice of the brand. When a crisis hits, your company will turn to you to get information out to those affected and protect the reputation of the company. Maria Potempski, Lecturer in Marketing and Public Relations at the University of Derby, explains her top tips to maintaining your reputation when crisis strikes.
Have a plan in place
Always have an up to date crisis handling plan ready to grab and go. This should include basic protocols for dealing with the media and all the crucial info you might need if you are unable to access your usual systems such as contact phone numbers for important internal and external contacts, and passwords for external services such as social media accounts. Know where you can go to work from if you cannot access your usual building.
Establish the facts
Find out how the media are presenting the situation and look into whether or not it reflects the reality. Just because they’re telling you it’s happened in a certain way, it doesn’t mean it’s true. Gather all the information you can about the situation from internal or other reputable sources (for example, the emergency services) in the first instance.
Don’t confirm ANYTHING
Promise to get back to the media once you have established the facts and decided what information you are prepared to divulge at this stage. Give a deadline, if you think you can honor it, and make sure you get back to them within it – even if it’s to say “sorry I am still trying to confirm the details”.
Make sure senior staff are aware
Once you know the basic facts of the situation you then need to quickly let executives within the company know, if they are not already aware. Reassure them you are handling the situation and will be in contact if any action is needed from them.
Alert your social media team
You must alert your social media team of the situation so they can be aware of any conversations that may have ignited. Keep a good line of communication with the team as things may filter through at any time.
Put your mobile on charge
Make sure you have all your electrical equipment and their charging companions – you’re probably going to need it. If there’s a chance you might be evacuated from your building, get everything you might need ready to go.
Decide what line you are going to take
Now you can start to decide on your actions. Whatever your next line of communication may be, it must be the truth. You don’t need to tell them everything yet, but don’t lie either, and certainly don’t speculate. Don’t include anything that you are not completely certain about, because if the picture changes later, you may look like a liar. Even if your next step is just a holding line, (i.e. we are aware that X has happened and we are looking into it), that is fine. Check it with senior staff and agree it with associated organisations (such as the emergency services or other statutory bodies that are involved) before it goes out.
Make sure the statement has a positive angle
Later down the line you need to communicate what steps you are taking to make things better, solve the problem and look after those affected. Remember CAR – show Concern, detail the Action being taken, and talk about which Remedy is being put in place. Express sorrow, sadness, gratitude – whatever emotional response is appropriate in the circumstances.
Decide who your spokesperson is going to be
Your spokesperson should be media trained and know the values and key messages of your company. Availability is also a key factor when selecting a spokesperson, you need someone who will be available to talk to media at any point. Be very careful in deciding whether or not to fulfill requests for live interviews, particularly in the early stages.
Keep a record of everything
Make all your responses recordable, i.e. email is better than phone, and if you can, record interviews yourself on your phone as they happen. This means you will have a fully unedited version to refer back to in the event that you (or your spokesperson) are misquoted or edited badly.
Don’t forget to keep staff in the loop
Communication is key. A crisis can affect your staff as much as it does external audiences – be open with your workforce and keep them updated as often as you can.