By Gerard Braud, CSP, Fellow IEC
Today’s crisis communication question is, what would you do if there was a fire and explosion where you work?
How long would it take before someone in your company could gather the facts, write a crisis communications news release, get the news release approved by the crisis management team, then released to the media, your employees, your customers, and your community?
One hour? Two hours? Three hours, or more?
The crisis communication case studies I’ve reviewed indicates many companies still take in excess of three hours to issue a statement. That is far too long and frankly, unacceptable.
If your company can’t release at least a basic statement in less than one hour of the onset of the crisis, you are failing.
Let me add a layer of crisis communications reality. There is a chance that a member of the public is instantly posting pictures and videos to social media within minutes of the explosion.
Let me increase your crisis anxiety by pointing out that the eyewitness could be broadcasting the fire and disaster live with Twitter’s Periscope, Facebook Live, YouTube Live, Instagram Live, and LinkedIn Live, as well as other emerging apps.
With each passing minute that social media is telling your story, you are losing control of the narrative and increasing the potential damage to your company’s reputation and revenue.
The best way to communicate quickly is to
Follow the 5 Steps to Effective Crisis Communications
To learn more about the 5 Steps to Effective Crisis Communication, use this link to get access to a free 5-part video series that explores best practices in crisis communication. This series takes you into a deeper dive than we have time for here.
Step 1 Conduct a vulnerability assessment
The assessment, done on a clear sunny day, identifies everything that could potentially damage your company’s reputation and revenue. This must include sudden crises such as fires and explosions, as well as smoldering crises such as sexual harassment or a social media post gone wrong.
Step 2 Write an effective crisis communications plan
This should not be just a checklist of standard operating procedures. It should be specific, sequential instructions for gathering information, confirming it with your crisis management team, then disseminating one message to all audiences. Those audiences must include the media, your employees, your customers, and your community. The plans I license to my clients have a provision that they must communicate to their audiences within one hour or less of the onset of the crisis. You can learn more details by signing up for the 5-part video series. You’ll also be given an option to download a PDF of a First Critical Statement that is perfect for every crisis.
Step 3 Have a library of pre-written news releases
Each of my clients receives a base set of 100 pre-written news releases with their crisis communications plan. Each news release is methodically written to have multiple choice and fill-in-the-blank options that allow the statement to be modified in about 10 minutes. The statements read less like a traditional news release and more like a well-written news story. This one statement goes to all audiences and stakeholders.
Step 4 Provide Media Training
In crisis communication media training, all of your potential spokespeople learn to deliver their statements by using the pre-written news releases in Step 3. They also learn the secrets to answering tough follow-up questions. A primary purpose of media training is to allow your spokespeople to make mistakes in private so that they do not make mistakes in public. In media training, it is also critical that each participant gets videotaped and evaluated multiple times during the day.
Step 5 Hold a Crisis Communication Drill
Like media training, the drill is designed to allow participants to make mistakes in private so that they do not make mistakes during a real crisis. A good crisis communications drill must have misdirection, injections of social media and mainstream media activities, plus at least two full-blown mock news conferences. Generally, the drills I conduct last about three hours, followed by a 90-minute evaluation. Team members can know the day of the drill and the time, but the drill scenario should be a secret.
The bottom line is that the traditional speed of communications from companies is far too slow in the age of social media. Many executives seem oblivious to the speed of social media, in part, because so many executives are not personally on social media. That must change if you want to protect your organization’s reputation and revenue in a crisis.
If you need to know more, please contact us. For a deeper dive, make sure you sign up for the free 5-part video series on the 5 Steps to Effective Crisis Communications.
Crisis communications and media training expert Gerard Braud, CSP, Fellow IEC is based in New Orleans. Organizations on five continents have relied on him to write their crisis communications plans and to train their spokespeople. He is the author of “Don’t Talk to the Media Until…”
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