Communications in a crisis
In light of the recent cyber security incident, it prompted me to consider communications in a crisis.
Have you ever been there when something has created a crisis at work and the news has spread faster than grease lightning? Gossip flows and before you know it, it’s like the Chinese whispers story. You need to have a strategy and a plan for those times.
A crisis communications plan should form part of your business continuity plan. It’s interesting how many small businesses don’t have one of these. But to ensure your business doesn’t fold when things go wrong, it’s essential. The plan can range from having your data backed up to if your shop premises are flooded.
• Who will you need to communicate with, in the event of a crisis? You need to have drawn up a list of people/businesses and other interested parties.
• Outline the problem and how it will be resolved and the expected timeline.
• Consider scenarios’ and whether potentially it could result in adverse publicity. The business will need to demonstrate that the situation is under control.
• Have a specific spokesperson to create continuity. This will also mean the person becomes the “go to” person for external media. It’s essential though to ensure internal communication is also spot on.
How is a crisis defined – It’s an event or situation which potentially will have a negative effect on the business.
Here are some tips to help formulate a plan:
1. Within the Business continuity plan, there are specific roles that need filling and there should be a Crisis communications team. Large organisations will involve senior Managers. In a smaller business, it will usually be the owner and a key employee or a PR person drafted in.
2. Consider who will be the spokesperson. This is someone who needs to confidently share the business’s message and becomes the face. Remember how the person responds sets the view of the business. The person will be working to save the reputation of the business and stop any damage. If necessary consider getting a PR Person in to assist.
3. Have specific scenarios and communication scripts drafted for certain types of situations such as theft of data, premises temporarily closed etc. Arrange training for the spokesperson. Ensure all in the business know who the person is and that person is the only person to talk to the media.
4. Draw up a communications plan covering responses potentially needed and what the steps are.
a. Consider the type of crisis and what the cause of it was.
b. The depth of the crisis and how it will affect the business and the customer.
c. People who will be affected.
d. How long is this issue going to last?
e. What the response to the news is likely to be.
f. How the crisis will be solved
g. Who has been informed such as the emergency services, government etc?
h. Who is covering other roles within the business continuity plan
i. Who will be keeping the stakeholders informed?
j. What communications channels will be used?
Also, include a short synopsis on the business and how it works needs to be prepared for any communications. This helps give the media the background they may not know.
5. Remember to keep the communication lines open internally to reassure employees and to create the business continuity. The employees will need to know whether they need to report to work, who to contact and what they can say outside publicly. Honesty is always the best policy. But reinforce there is only one spokesperson and people are to refer any enquiries to the spokesperson.
6. After the crisis has been resolved, remember to keep communicating. This is essential to show the business is under control and to stop any damage to the business reputation. People will be looking for reassurance that the issue has been resolved and that steps have been put in place to stop it happening again. And remember to thank your employees for their help and patience as well as the continued support from customers.
Lastly, remember to review what happened and how the crisis was handled and communicated. Were there any lessons to learn.
Because a crisis could happen, it helps to be prepared.