Crisis Communication: Planning for what may (has) come

A time of intense difficulty, trouble and danger. That is the definition of a crisis and we are all most definitely experiencing all of those. The question now is, “How will you respond?” Are you being as proactive as possible? Are you keeping your audience abreast of changes that may impact them? A crisis can put you and your organization to the test for sure. But with the right mindset, a commitment to transparency and authenticity, you can further build trust with your constituents. In this blog, we provide suggestions and examples of how to get on top of your crisis communications efforts.

1: Start with a plan. It’s never too late to get one in place.

The worse thing you can do is not have a plan. Get one together as soon as possible if you don’t already have one in place.

Designate a crisis team. Who needs to be on your team? Who can help you get everything accomplished in a timely manner? Who are your A-players? You only want your all-stars on a crisis team.

You need to have a spokesperson and a team that can help you do the following:

  • Develop crisis communications messaging
  • Update your social media and website
  • Alert the media of any updates that impact the public
  • Organize press conference (in-person or virtual) if necessary
  • Send emails to your contacts
  • Coordinate media requests
  • Provide reassurance to your audience

Once you have your team together, plan your approach. Initially, you may need to meet 2-3 times a day, then daily, weekly and so forth. The goal is to have regular communications based on the severity and frequency of the crisis dynamics.

Once you have determined who is responsible for what and your team is on the same page, start implementing and implement on a regular basis.

Whatever the crisis, stay true to your company values. You may even discover some new ones after the crisis is over.

2. Don’t be “that” company

Don’t ignore it! If a crisis is affecting you or your customers, speak up! If you don’t, you could come across as non-caring. When you do speak or post about it, lead and end with compassion and concern. 

Note: don’t become a health expert unless you ARE a health expert. Talk about the crisis and how it affects your business (store shutting down, laying off employees, providing crisis services, etc.). Rely on expert sources for your industry. Associations that advocate for your field are oftentimes good resources. For example, dentists may turn to the American Dental Association or restaurants may turn to their local hospitality and tourism group or the National Restaurant Association.

You don’t want to add to the clutter, either. A post on social media or an update on your website may be sufficient. Be mindful of inboxes and don’t send just to send.  Take a look at these examples from the Wall Street Journal.

3. Hit the ground running

OK, so the crisis is at your doorstep: businesses are shutting down, products are running out and events are being canceled. Now is the time to establish your internal team and lean on your strategic partners and let them get to work. 

Next, take a hard look at your business and this crisis. From an operational side, what can your business do to support your stakeholders or others during the crisis? We’ll use the COVID-19 pandemic and a brewery as our example. Sure, those two things sound like they have nothing in common, that is until hand sanitizer started flying off the shelves and couldn’t be found anywhere. Insert breweries and distilleries with volumes of alcohol and the ability to manufacture in high volumes. Check out this article from Parade.com on how they responded.

Does your business allow you the opportunity to position yourself as an expert in the field when it comes to the crisis? Let’s say you’re a small urgent care center testing patients for COVID-19. The crisis presents you with an opportunity to serve as an expert in your field. Here are some ways to make the most of your position:

  • Share factual data through social media
  • Reach out to the local media and let them know you are available for comment
  • Update your website with reputable resources
  • Let your local municipality know you are available for support if needed

4. Communicate, early and often

Now that you have your team, a plan and know how to position yourself. It’s time to start communicating. We recommend doing so in this order.

  • Advisory board, board members, trustees and leadership
  • Employees and internal stakeholders (such as donors)
  • Clients, volunteers, strategic partners
  • Vendors
  • General public

When it comes to employees, they want to feel like you care. Jim Prosser with Edelman says employers should reach out to employees at least once a day, if not more. But don’t just make announcements, especially if your employees are working from home. Ask how they’re doing, video conference with them, send funny memes, maybe some jokes and even send them snail mail! Things like this will brighten spirits and make them feel better during a time of crisis.

When it comes to social media, you must ask yourself: Is what you’re sharing WORTH sharing? Is it true, is it necessary, is it kind? Does your content cut through to clutter of everything else being shared? To make your content stand out, think about adding compelling video, do a live video or video Q&A if possible. 

And as we said above, there is nothing wrong with using a bit of humor. This goes for social media, as well. People need a laugh in a time of crisis. But don’t overuse this and don’t go too far. McDonald’s did a great job with this on social media, showing people how to wash their hands for 20 seconds while singing their jingle:

McDonalds

5. Be consistent until it’s over

As the crisis evolves, the frequency of your communication efforts may need to change. Ideally, the crisis will start to subside and you can decrease the frequency of communicating. Whatever you do, don’t go silent until it is over. Once it’s over, thank supporters and celebrate your resiliency. Together, with a plan and a strong team, you can weather the storm. Research and history show the companies that commit to communication, marketing and public relations come out stronger and better.

Stay strong, America. We’ve got this!

We’re here for you.

Do you need crisis communication for your brand or company? We can help you out. Contact TRIO today. We’re ready to help with content, press releases, social media and more. Or, we can just be a shoulder to lean on.