Be prepared – seven points to help communicate in a crisis

There is a lot said about crisis communication and many, many courses are run every week aiming to impart wisdom on the subject. Having just lived through one of the most challenging weeks at work I started thinking about some really simple points that are the foundation for me. The points are what I use to get me through. They may not come with a thesis or academic research but they have helped me to survive some difficult times.

1. Be prepared to work some long hours – you can do all possible planning to ensure staff resilience with rotas through the crisis but one thing is clear as the head of communications or the communication lead you will have to put some long hours in. It is something to just accept and work with. If the crisis runs over a few days or longer you will have time when you can get some work-life balance back but in the heat of a crisis you will be needed to lead your organisation or client. And that means long days and weeks.

2. Understand the crisis – whatever the issue you are facing find out as much about it as you possibly can. Only if you understand what is happening can you find how it should be communicated and be prepared for what may happen along the way. Know your crisis in detail.

3. Don’t lose sight of other issues – if you are lucky you will only face one crisis at a time but it is not guaranteed. You need to still be alert to other issues that may become critical or have an impact on reputation. Even when you are dealing with your crisis there will be many other possible issues that could erupt and become the next crisis, be alive to all of them.

4. Have a plan – most organisations and businesses have a crisis communication plan know it and use it as a basis for what you are dealing with. We are always too busy to run through are emergency plans but if we don’t invest in training and educating the team and organisation the challenge of an incident will be increased.

5. Honesty and simplicity count – as you prepare your communication plan and write your statements keep to the truth of what you know and make sure that what you say is clear. There is no point working out communication if most people can’t understand it. It may be simple but never lie as you will be found out and the impact on confidence will be so much more.

6. Don’t forget media and social media monitoring – when a crisis emerges there is a focus on the inevitable media activity. Monitoring the media is important but in the 21st century it is vital to monitor social media. The arrival of 24 hour news changed how crises are communicated, and now the arrival of social media has changed it again.

7. Learn from others – when you are not facing a crisis don’t forget about them. When you have time it is vital to learn from how others dealt with issues and incidents. Consider what they did that worked well, what you would have improved on and above all ensure that your plans are robust and ready for action.

If we are lucky we will only be at the centre of a crisis a few times in our careers. But it is how we deal with them that could have the biggest impact on us and our reputation. If we are prepared and meet the crisis with a cool head and clear plan we have a chance to gain the confidence of the bosses. If we are not prepared the crisis could be extended and have a lasting impact on our organisation or client.

The one message for people to take away is like a boy scout ‘be prepared’ if you want to survive a crisis.

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