By Michaella Elicegui of The Abbi Agency
I was fortunate enough to take a PRSA Sierra Nevada Chapter crisis management seminar. Three professionals including Nancy Leuenhagen, Washoe County, Julie Regan, APR, Tahoe Regional Planning Authority; Kerri Garcia, Microsoft, all well versed in managing crises sat on the panel and spilled their knowledge. While soaking it all in, I realized that crisis management closely follows the rules of fire safety.
1. Don’t play with matches- Have a plan on how to put out a fire.
When it comes to crisis management the first goal is to always avoid a crisis, much like the best way to avoid a fire is ‘don’t play with matches’. In order to avoid a crisis it is key to have internal and external lines of communication open, this will allow you to stay ahead of an issue and deal with it promptly and properly before it has the chance to grow into a crisis.
Establishing trust and credibility with your external networks, whether it be with traditional media or social media, before a crisis hits allows the brand to use those brand advocates effectively.
Dealing with small issues prevents crises’.
2. A fire has sparked- Stomp out the fire before it spreads.
There are many ways that a crisis spiral out of control. Most commonly, companies do not have a plan in place to stomp out the issue. Secondly, companies with closed communication lines are more likely to lose control of the message.
When you are properly prepared, it is time to put your pre-determined, and practiced plan into place without wasting time. This is a key time to speak before the media gets ahold of the story.
3. Put your plan into action- Call the firemen, bring in the fire chief
If you have a full-blown crisis on your hands, silence is the loudest cry. While you don’t want to be silent, it is important to tell your story in a controlled manner. Telling your own story prevents someone else from telling it inaccurately. This includes proactive outreach to the media and using owned media channels to provide updated real time information.
When speaking with media remember:
- Empathize. This crisis is affecting people and lives to some extent.
- Have a team of helpers. No one put out a fire with a garden hose.
- Have a spokesperson. Chose the voice of the organization wisely, while one person may want to do it, make sure that person can communicate effectively and empathetically.
- Make sure the spokesperson is briefed on four key messages. Never more than four. Stick to the messages and NEVER say no comment.
4.Identify the cause of the fire- Restore trust
To begin regaining trust, address the cause of the crisis. Use the media (traditional and social) to inform the public what happened and why. When addressing the public be transparent, be authentic, be human. It is important that at this point of crisis communication trust must be restored.
5. Future prevention- Practice it.
It’s only a mistake if it happens twice. The first crisis was a learning lesson. It is important, after the crisis has passed, that you and your team create a better plan in order to prevent future crises. It isn’t enough just to make the plan. You must practice it.