1. Be prepared
In a crisis, speed is of the essence: the sooner you start communicating, the stronger the grip you’ll have on what’s being told about you. Fortunately, there are many things you can – and should – prepare in when in calm waters. First and foremost: prepare the most likely and impactful scenarios for your business and execute a "stakeholder mapping": this allows you to start communicating immediately when the storm hits. And practicing those scenarios gives you an additional advantage. The help of a specialized crisis communications agency is of great value here – and make sure you put them on speed dial, just in case.
2. Agree on a spokesperson
Think carefully about who will be the face of the crisis. Often that's the CEO or another executive. And ideally, that person is media-trained. Don’t have a suitable spokesperson? Then outsoursing that role to your PR agency comes with its pros and cons.
3. Choose your strategy very carefully
Has your organization failed in its core mission or is someone else to blame? And how bad is the situation? The cause and severity of the crisis largely determine the communication strategy to adopt, both in terms of messaging and of proactivity. That strategy is where everything starts, so think it over very well and get specialist counsel if necessary.
4. Be emphatic...
Regardless of cause or blame: we wouldn’t be talking about a crisis if at least one stakeholder group wasn’t seriously affected. So in all your communications, first and foremost radiate empathy.
5. ...and transparent
Never bury your head in the sand. And don't be afraid to say sorry if necessary. Sounds obvious? In Belgium we've just had a political scandal proving how strong the ostrich reflex remains: first she lied, then minimized and finally tried to divert the attention to a vague and totally unrelated story. That way, she turned an all-in-all forgivable mistake into a week-long media spectacle resulting in her resignation.
6. Only talk about what you know
Transparency is not about having an answer to every question. So don’t make statements about things you don't have enough information about – that may blow up in your face afterwards. But even if you barely know anything yet, upholding transparency is vital. A "holding statement” is a good tool for that. In that - usually short - statement you explain, either reactively or proactively, that you regret the impact, are investigating the matter and will communicate proactively as soon as there is more to tell.
7. Inform your own people first
Your employees are your most important stakeholders (that belief is why Charly PR, as one of the few PR agencies in the Benelux, has a dedicated internal communications service). So they should be the first to know, even if the crisis has no direct impact on them. Furthermore, make sure they clearly know what they should and should not say and do when they get external questions. You can read more tips on internal communications in times of crisis in this blog.