Company life is marching along just fine. Sales are fantastic. Public opinion is great. Service and products are going off without a hint of any hitch.
5 Crucial Crisis Communication Tips
1. Issue a holding statement that acknowledges the situation and allows you time to think.
2. Contact employees and investors immediately.
3. Consider paid media placements in a prominent publication.
4. Be authentic.
5. Write a crisis communications plan, right now.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, an unexpected event happens publicly knocks you off your game and without warning your company is now in a bit of a jam.
Or a pickle, as they say.
The best way to handle a pickle is to prevent said pickle from happening in the first place. However, because a controversial-free business is not entirely realistic, here are five necessary steps to take when you’re wrestling with solutions for a public-facing crisis.
Issue a Holding Statement
A rushed response is usually the result of getting dragged on social media paired with the lack of a ready-to-go crisis communications plan. Think Kevin McAllister’s battle plan in Home Alone. You want one of those for crisis comms already on deck.
Even though there is immense pressure to respond during a crisis, rushing a response is almost always a terrible idea. Yes, you want to respond with urgency. However, an urgent, timely response is not the same as a frantic, knee-jerk reaction. In times of crisis, it’s critical that you know the difference, unless being made an example of on TikTok sounds fun to you.
The solution: A holding statement. A holding statement is a blanket, boilerplate PR statement that buys you time to think and craft a thoughtful, authentic response to whatever crisis you’re publicly facing. Holding statements exist to prevent emotional situations from getting even more out of control than they already are.
A holding statement acknowledges that you are aware of the situation, and make sure to spell the situation out specifically. It also lets the public know that you’re collecting more information and will provide an update via a longer and more thoughtful statement once you have all the facts.
Consider a holding statement the tourniquet of your crisis communications first-aid kit. If you don’t already have a couple of these on hand, make sure that your mission is to develop several holding statements before the close of the quarter.
Contact Employees and Investors Immediately
Generally speaking, it’s not your employees fish-frying your guts all over Twitter during a crisis. However, that could quickly change if you do not address the people closest to you first rather than leave them wondering where you stand.
By addressing employees and investors before you address the general public, you are executing serious damage control with investors and displaying a united front for your employees. By prioritizing employees first, you have the opportunity to hear their concerns, answer questions and discuss the details of the crisis with them privately. They will feel valued and heard and will be more likely to have your back during the crisis.
Solidarity and esprit de corps are exactly what you want.
Employees can be your most effective public supporters during a public meltdown. Having a playbook prepared for your employees that includes suggestions on what they can post to their personal social media is one of the greatest tools in the war of public opinion, especially when the general public is trying to gauge just how forgivable you actually are.
Employees who stick by their employer have the power to go viral and soothe an otherwise heated situation. Please note: You’re not requiring or coercing anyone to leverage their personal socials on behalf of the company, but simply making a request that, with any luck, your employees will feel inspired and invested enough in you to consider.
Consider Paid Media Placements
Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a real earned-media snob. Earned media is press, and paid media is advertising. However, desperate times call for desperate measures. If you find yourself in a bit of a PR pickle, then paid advertising can be your bought-and-paid-for friend.
In the middle of a public crisis, despite wonderfully thought out statements, earned media is still earned. This means that while you’re working hard to get the crisis under control, you have no control over what is being published about your company. Paid media placements can make a big difference. A positive, sponsored article in a prominent and search-friendly publication can help sway public opinion and get a lot of eyeballs, under a credible name in a short period of time.
The purpose of paid media is to sway public opinion and paint your business in a purely positive light with a narrative that you can control 100 percent.
Bonus points if you have the publication you plan to work with already picked out so you can be familiar with their guidelines, fees, submission process and publishing time. Planning ahead will allow you to move swiftly when you’re in the middle of chaos, so you and your team will not spend valuable response time researching. That’s a waste of critical hours, and there’s no time more valuable than the first 24 hours of a public crisis.
Sure, honesty is always the main dish of any public apology, but if we’re truly adapting our crisis communication plan for 2023 expectations, then authenticity is the most important side dish you can serve with it.
The pandemic changed how companies fundamentally communicate with their customers, employees and the general public during times of crisis. Before the pandemic, it was more accepted to see blanket statements or very carefully worded apologies from PR agencies that lacked heart and authenticity.
Today, in a post-pandemic and post George Floyd world, overly polished, overly careful apologies hurt the situation more than they help. When it’s time to apologize, apologize like you’re talking to someone close to you that you hurt. Follow the rules of any valid, emotionally available apology: clearly address where you went wrong, how you intend to fix the situation and ensure that it never happens again.
Write That Crisis Communications Plan. Right Now.
One of the biggest mistakes I see startups make is not having a crisis communications playbook on hand period. If you don’t have a crisis comms plan that includes holding statements, spokesperson information and types of responses for a variety of crises, that all needs to be priority number one.
Sure, crisis communications might not be the most glamorous aspect of PR strategies, but lifeboats weren’t the most glamorous part of building the Titanic, but the lack thereof certainly made the most headlines.
If you find yourself in a mess before you’ve had the chance to build your crisis communications plan, use your “crisis experience” to build the playbook as you go. Analyze what’s working, what’s not working, which publications you prefer to publish sponsored articles, and detail which activities had the most impact on public opinion.
Even if you’re totally unprepared for your first crisis, you’ll learn to expect the unexpected. There will always be situations that you can’t control; but you’ll have the best plan of attack that you hope you will never need to use.