Communicating Through a Crisis

A backhoe inadvertently digs up unmarked graves, a saltwater pipeline leak is detected and could cause environmental contamination, a beloved and strategic team member dies unexpectedly.These are all things that could happen.  In fact, they have happened.  Each situation presented their own unique kind of crisis to our clients and team members in varying degrees.  Whether we like it or not, bad things are going to happen.  But there are steps you can take to help communicate through the crisis.

 

Assume Something Bad Will Happen

I’m generally a “glass half full” kind of gal.  But I also know that bad things happen to good people.  Bad things happen to bad people.  Bad things happen, period.  I have lived through crisis situations in my personal life and in my business life.  I don’t relish either.  What I do know, however, is that living through a business-related crisis when you have made the choice to proactively complete a Crisis Communications Plan makes life more bearable.

When a crisis happens, things can be chaotic.  Emotions run high.  Confusion and misinformation spread quickly (especially with texting and social media).  Having a Crisis Communication Plan can help center yourself. It can be a stabilizing factor for others involved and add clarity and direction during a time that may feel uncertain and uneasy.

In some ways, it’s kind of like writing a will.  Nobody wants to do it.  Maybe writing a will makes things a little too real.  Or, if you’re like me, you believe you now have a significantly higher probability of dying once the ink is dry.  Regardless, a Crisis Communications Plan, just like a will, is important and there will come a day when you will definitely need it.

 

Clue Your People In, Like Right Now

As any good Crisis Communication Plan outlines, there should be a specific internal group of people that are notified right away in the event of a crisis.  Do it.  Right away.  Immediately chose a spokesperson for that particular crisis.  Our society of instant TV news, online sources, and social media sites won’t wait for you to get your ducks in a row.

As soon as your internal group has assessed the situation, notify the rest of your staff that may be affected so they are not blindsided or worse, start speculating among themselves what has happened.

Because we live in an age of instant news, it’s very probable you will be contacted by reporters before you’re ready.  Be open to inquiries from reputable news outlets, but don’t be afraid to say that you don’t have all the information yet or you’re still assessing the situation.

 

Be Real

This may seem like a dumb statement.  What I mean by this is choose a spokesperson that is mentally strong but genuine.  A spokesperson and team with emotional intelligence goes a long way in dealing with the inevitable human elements of any crisis.  The mistake of choosing a spokesperson that has a robot like sense of purpose when put in the public eye can be very costly.  It can be okay in certain situations….like when you are a Secret Service agent detailing the President.  But during a crisis, it is important to have a strong sense of purpose while remaining human and empathetic.  It is important, and frankly okay to show emotion when something is seriously a bad situation.

 

Rinse and Repeat, and Rinse and Repeat

Just because you’ve disseminated the Crisis Communications Plan and talked to your internal staff or clients about the situation doesn’t mean you’re done.  Not by a long shot.  Continuous updates are needed to make sure everyone is abreast of the latest developments. You do not want people sharing outdated information.  This also allows everyone to generally feel comfortable with the direction things are going.

 

Lay It to Rest

Once a situation has come to a point where it is resolved, or time has passed to a point where there is waning public interest, lay it to rest.  I’m not saying never talk about it again.  I am saying have a post-mortem on the crisis, your team’s actions, and outcomes of the crisis.  Adjust your Crisis Communication Plan from the lessons learned.  Then step away from it.  Grieve and move on.  Continuing to relive a crisis or getting stuck in a crisis mode can have a negative effect on staff.  After all, we are only human.

Now, to tackle writing my will…

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