6 important questions communicators need to ask in a crisis
Editor's note: Let's face it: Crisis communications has been a bit of a hot topic in the PR industry, as of late. Gini Dietrich from Spin Sucks wrote a fantastic three-part series on crisis communications. Part one was on how to use Big Data to identify weaknesses, predict the future, and monitor current crises. Part two was on the six ways to use social listening to help you prepare for the inevitable. A version of this post (part three) originally appeared on the Spin Sucks blog. For the full version of the post, check out the post on Spin Sucks.
When we work with our clients in crisis communications planning, we walk through the following questions:
1. What’s the worst that could happen?
This is where you brainstorm every possible worst case scenario that could happen to your organization.
This should capture everything from marketing campaigns that go off the rails (such as this Sea World campaign), to natural disasters and terrorist attacks.
Not all crisis has an external source either.
Prepare for things your executive team could do, such as poorly thought out social media posts, sexual harassment, or tax evasion.
Make sure to cast a broad net when sourcing your scenarios by including employees at varying levels from departments across your organization.
2. Is this an issue or a crisis?
An issue is a kerfuffle—it isn’t going to do damage to your company’s reputation or your bottom line.
Of course, with an issue, if you don’t deal with it quickly, it could morph into a crisis.
A crisis, in comparison, affects your company’s reputation and results in a significant loss of revenue.
A negative comment directed at your company on Facebook is an issue; your product exploding and being banned from being taken aboard aircraft by the FAA is a crisis.
3. How big is our risk?
Not all crises demand all-hands-on-deck and sleeping in the office until they are resolved.
Rank your scenarios on a scale of one to three.
Three is low risk (but still important).
One involves setting up sleeping bags in the boardroom.
4. Can it be prevented?
You can’t prevent every unhappy customer or predict manufacturing issues that can cause a need for product recalls.
There are some things you can at least work towards preventing, such as an ill-conceived marketing campaign.
This requires better due diligence and more thorough crisis communications planning and training.
5. What would escalate it to a crisis?
Sometimes a crisis may start off as a three, but rapidly escalate.
What are factors that could cause an escalation?
These could include:
- No response at all
- A canned response that is copied over and over again
- Lying—and lying some more
- Not saying two magical words—I’m sorry
- People hurt or killed
6. Who needs to know and when?
Although some people like to call a news conference whenever a thought enters their heads, not all crises merit a public mass communication.
If you receive a negative review on an industry review site, for instance, you should make your sales and customer service teams aware of it, and provide some talking points, but you don’t need to issue a news release refuting it point-by-point (over-defensive much?).
But if an executive is leaving the company to head up a rival firm, pretty much everyone needs to know.
This begins with your employees, board members, and investors.
Failure to get out in front of a story like this is a great example of how a crisis escalates.
While crisis communications planing won’t be able to account for every crisis, the process of planning , defining how you will respond, and who will be involved in which activities, goes a long way to helping you keep a cool head and react thoughtfully when the unexpected arises.
Now that your crisis communications planning is out of the way, it’s time to begin thinking about the future.
And, by future, I mean…how has your efforts in crisis communications planning worked out for you?
Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author ofSpin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro.
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