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How to manage crisis communications

23/03/2020

There’s a crisis! No need to panic, you already have your crisis communications strategy and the perfect crisis communications expert in place to manage the situation. Right? 

Not necessarily. 49% of companies don’t have crisis communications plans, nor do they engage in monitoring or internal communications to detect trouble ahead, found a Forbes Insights report for Deloitte.

It might feel like the UK has been leaping from crisis to crisis over the last six months. But not all crises are global, newsworthy headlines. The Forbes report defined a crisis as, 

“Crises result from a single devastating event or a combination of escalating events and present a severe threat to an organization’s strategic objectives, reputation and viability.” 

In fact, PwC’s 2019 Global Crisis Survey lists 19 possible crisis triggers, with companies citing liquidity issues, technological failure, and operational disruption as the top three most disruptive crises they faced. It is far more likely, then, that your crisis will come from within your own organisation. 

Great! That should be easier to solve then. Well, this is where some confusion can set in. The PwC report found that most C-Suite respondents felt they ‘owned’ a crisis, and, given that crises can develop across a range of differing functions, this seems sensible. But, given the sheer number of potential crisis scenarios, how do you ensure communication is managed so that the business can come together and solve the problem strategically?

Enter… your Crisis Communications Expert

Crisis communications is a specific skill-set within Communications, and often seen in PR, Communications and Media Relations professionals. These people will:

  • Liaise directly with senior leaders within the business, including the CEO, finding out the facts of the situation, provide communications advice and produce a crisis strategy
  • Communicate that strategy internally, and deliver to the media and customers
  • Write a press release and statements to issue across the company’s communications channels. For this reason, many crisis communications professionals have a journalism background, where their passion for fact-finding and communication began.
  • Have excellent media relations skills and be able to answer and deflect a journalist’s probing questions. Externally, they may be referred to as the ‘Company Spokesperson’, and sometimes they will be interviewed on camera or for radio.

Remembering that most crisis develop within a company's walls, however, is paramount. It has been argued that crisis management is 70% internal and 30% external. Having the internal framework to allow a free flowing, and fast, supply of information, and being able to keep internal stakeholders informed, comes before anyone can talk to the media.

How to hire for successful crisis management

PwC found that 74% of businesses had engaged in an external agency and 71% had some staff dedicated to crisis management.

Having a dedicated spokesperson internally is where your Communications team comes in. This could be your Internal Communications professional, or someone in your PR team that is responsible for coordinating internal messages and responses. Or, if you're a small business without a Communications team, it could be the CEO's Executive Assistant, or someone that inherently knows the company and its leaders. You want to ensure that internal crisis warnings are monitored, and that someone is responsible for liaising with either your Communications team or a third party.

At this point, if you don't have crisis management skills internally, you may hire a contractor adept in the sort of crisis you face, or an external Crisis Communications agency. Crisis Communications contractors are amongst the highest paid because of the value of their expertise. These professionals are adept in grasping the crisis situation and reacting quickly – producing the crisis strategy and external communications and liaising with the media and customers in what is often an intense and stressful time. 

To speak to us regarding your crisis management strategy and who to hire you can contact us here.

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