“Refugees from Syria invade Europe”, “How to solve the refugee problem?”, “Is the EU ready to accept war refugees?”. Every day similar headlines appear in the press. Probably many people ask themselves: “Is there nothing else to talk about?”
Managing crisis communication is a critical organisational function. We live in a knowledge society in which nothing lasts and everything changes. Crisis has become a part of our lives. Whether it is an airplane catastrophe, an institutional crisis, a natural disaster, a nuclear accident, a terrorist incident, a dioxin affair, a stock market crash or a company closing down, crisis has become an everyday topic.
A crisis can be complex with unpredictable effects and can move fast. The most important thing to remember concerning a crisis communication strategy is that you should not begin to draft it once the crisis is there. Effective crisis communication is built on preparation.
It definitely involves a number of considerations about whom, when, what and how to communicate. A crisis should be managed by taking the right steps at the right moment and using the right tools. Here are seven tips for effectively handling a crisis situation:
Always be prepared!
During a crisis situation, it's often too late to start figuring out what to do. If you still do not have a plan, do not wait for a crisis to strike first. Every organisation needs a strategy to identify who says what. Identify a small team of people in your organisation as your crisis communication team. A written plan will save your time and will reduce the stress of the management, and allow them to focus on dealing with the situation when it's there.
Communicating immediately and effectively should be your first priority. Try to respond within an hour. Show empathy and sincerity. This will build public trust and will reduce rumors and misinformation. Journalists have deadlines that they have to respect and if you do not speak to the media, someone else will. Organisations that communicate first have much greater chance to become a main source of information for the press during the crisis.
Be transparent and honest!
One of the best measures that organisations can employ to either avoid or reduce negative publicity is to aim for transparency. Trying to mask the intensity of any crisis is a recipe for trouble. Information usually comes out anyway and a lack of transparency could reinforce suspicions and make it worse. In our days even the most seemingly insignificant detail can go viral within minutes and reputations are more and more at the mercy of social media. People need information but they also understand that you don’t have all the answers.
Be consistent and stick to the facts!
Speak with one voice and be clear. Tell people as early as possible the good and the bad news. Identify one central spokesperson that has the authority and the knowledge to speak on behalf of your organisation and shows empathy. If you are not 100% certain about the facts, do not communicate them. Do not speculate but share information about how you are planning to address the problem.
Keep talking once the initial crisis phase has passed. This will help to avoid media coverage getting (more) negative. When working with the media you have to be patient and courteous. Respond to incorrect information. Provide the press with more background information. Announce when your next update will be. Don’t blame other people or minimize the situation.
Make use of digital and social media!
One of the biggest PR crises was without doubt the 2014 Malaysia Airline crash(es). The company first chose to manage the digital asset, including its website and social media like Facebook and Twitter. Nevertheless, social media give also the possibility to everyone with internet access to become a citizen journalist. It is a tool that can affect in a negative way, but can also cause positive outcomes if properly used. So, make sure that your crisis plan includes social media protocols and hire an experienced agency during an emergency situation. Nevertheless, when a crisis hit, every organisation should take advantage of both new and traditional media to communicate.
Seize the opportunity!
"A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty", said Winston Churchill. Everyone focuses on negative issues during crises. It is easy to ignore opportunities. Nevertheless, there are no crises without opportunities. Try to focus on those and make the situation work in your favor.
by Stavros Papagianneas,
Managing Director at StP Communications
With a background including positions such as communication officer at the European Commission and press officer and spokesperson to various diplomatic missions in Brussels, Stavros Papagianneas is currently managing director of public relations consultancy StP Communications. He is a senior communications expert with more than 20 years’ experience in strategic communications, public affairs, public relations, digital communication, social media and media relations . He has also been a member of the Working Party on Information of the Council of the European Union. He is the author of several articles in EU media like New Europe, L' Echo, Communication Director and Research Europe.
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