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Crisis Communications: 3 Important Steps to Help Guide Communicators in Weathering the Storm

Crisis Communications: 3 Important Steps to Help Guide Communicators in Weathering the Storm

[By Jason Mollica]

There has been no shortage of crisis in the news lately. Whether it is former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, FIFA’s Sepp Blatter, or Blue Bell Creameries, public relations pros have been weighing in on what could have been done to prevent these crises. The issue, though, is no matter how many pros weigh in, there will still be fires that get started, which could have easily prevented.

We as PR pros talk a lot about creating crisis communications plans and making sure we have a strategy for how to handle them. Let’s be honest, though. I could write page after page on how to prevent a crisis. But crises don’t always fit the textbook example. If you can’t stop the fire, then you need to find a way to, at least, start keeping it at bay.

  1. Start being honest. Most crises start and then linger because someone wasn’t truthful. The faster you can start with facts that are true and answer questions in an honest way, the faster the flames will begin to go out. During my time in television, one of the things I always looked for was the person who I knew was providing honest answers. During a crisis, the spokespeople who are honest will be ones that help lower the heat.
  2. Keeping key audiences and the public top of mind. Depending on the crisis situation, there is a distinct possibility you will need to first inform customers, investors or other stakeholders before the general public. You also need to provide these groups with the right messages. They may be put in a tough situation or be asked tough questions about the issue. Supplying the audiences with the right messages will ensure consistency.
  3. What tools are you using? In any crisis situation, it is integral for you to adhere closely to the established communications plan. The communications tools you have in place should fit the circumstances. One kind of crisis may call for a press conference and media interviews. In a different crisis, you may need to launch a microsite to encourage questions and engagement. This is also where your social networks can help. If you have an established and engaged audience, one that sees you as trustworthy and ethical, these “champions” will help you in a crisis.

Here’s an important point to remember in any crisis: Don’t assume that one size fits all. Despite hearing “This is a textbook PR crisis,” no crisis goes by the book. You’ll need to be sharp and also pull from experiences in your career. However, if you take one issue at a time and be truthful, the flames of a crisis will die down sooner rather than later.

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