There are plenty of situations that could spark a crisis. With many companies rushing ahead to roll out new AI products and initiatives, it adds another element of risk to businesses if you’re not thinking about the possible ethical implications.
No one wants to think about a crisis happening to their business, but it's important to be prepared for anything. That's where a crisis communications strategy comes in. A well-crafted crisis communications strategy can help you stay calm and collected in a difficult situation, and it can also help you protect your reputation and your business.
Here we share seven steps to creating a stress-free crisis communications strategy, covering everything from identifying potential crises to responding to the media.
1. Prepare, prepare, prepare!
Preparation is key. Be proactive, engage all key areas of the company to understand and identify all potential crises that could affect your company now and in the future. Some of those triggers could be AI, strike action (read more about the Summer of Disobedience 2023), 5g interference, change in legislature — there are so many.
Consider all your operations, your growth plans, policies. This will help to prepare you for a crisis that may creep up overnight to possibly preventing one from happening altogether.
2. Identify your crisis comms team and spokespeople
An effective crisis communications response is only as strong as the team behind it.
Identify that team. It’s usually made up of the c-suite, subject-matter experts and legal counsel as it requires strong leadership, knowledge in key areas of the company and ensuring you are playing by the book so that you can make the right decisions quickly.
These people may be your natural spokespeople as they are the senior heads of the company and typically lead a key area of it. However, it is very important your spokespeople are put through the paces with comprehensive media training and are comfortable in front of a camera or mic. The way they look, to the way they stand and the tone of their voice are just some of the factors that will impact the delivery of your crisis response.
Once you identify these people, understand how to reach them in the case of an emergency and have a list of more than one person against each company area so you know who to go to if they are unreachable when a crisis arises.
3. Write holding statements/templates
Once you have outlined your potential crises and associated comms team, prepare for these scenarios and what would happen if they played out. When a crisis is developing and a reporter reaches out to your PR for comment, the best thing you can do is respond quickly with a holding statement.
A holding statement is basically the ‘we’re on it’ statement before you issue your detailed response. Developing these for the potential crises you have already outlined means there are a bank of statements your PR team have to hand, that are already approved by the c-suite, so they can keep media at bay while you plan the next steps.
Issuing a holding statement will help the company to control the narrative and show your customers and colleagues you are on top of it and will continue to keep them in the loop with what happens next.
4. Evaluate the crisis
You have a crisis on your hands. Firstly, stay calm. If you’ve followed the steps above, you are already in a good place. You might have planned for this potential crisis already, you know your crisis comms team and spokespeople, and you have a holding statement you can use or tweak for this crisis while the company decides what to do next. You’ve got this.
While you wait for the crisis comms team to get together, read the situation. Understand what the complications are, what’s lead to this crisis, where the company might have gone wrong, who is affected by it, what the options etc. so you are ready to discuss what happens next.
5. Assemble crisis team and finalise plan of action
Get your crisis comms team together, ensure all bases are covered so you have all the facts before you respond and finalise the plan of action.
Decide what the company’s position is and how you will communicate to all key stakeholders, considering all audiences affected by this crisis, from customers to shareholders, then decide next steps. Thereafter, outline who will be responsible on getting this information out — for example, your PR, digital and internal comms teams, and ready your spokesperson/people if needed.
6. Develop a response
Whether you planned for this scenario or not, each crisis will be different and will need a unique response. Your holding statements might mean you already have a starting point, but you will need to develop crisis-specific messages to ensure it relates directly to the situation at hand.
This is your chance to control the crisis. It might make or break the reputation of the company (no pressure!), so it is imperative your communications are clear, comprehensive, and concise.
It is good practice to have a maximum of three key messages in your response, if possible. You want to ensure your response covers all key parts of the crisis but don’t go into unnecessary detail that may get pulled apart by your critics and dilute the effectiveness of it.
Be sure to adapt your response for its target audiences and channels too, as a media statement is likely not going to be suitable in your communications to customers or for your Twitter page.
7. Reflect and learn
You did it. You’re out on the other side and the company has survived the crisis. Well done.
Now don’t sweep it aside and hope it never comes up again. Reflect on it as a team. Decide whether it should be factored into your comms strategy. What went right, what went wrong and what could have been better? Is it something you want the company to be seen to be talking about or working on in the future? Use the learnings to enhance your crisis communications plans and be even more prepared for the next crisis that might land on your desk.
Find out how to navigate the conversation and talk about mental health in your workplace with our latest internal communications blog.
Learn how we helped UK Pet Food stay strategic in an ever-changing industry with a session focusing on risk management and thought leadership.