The Art and Science of Crisis Communication

Before delving deep into the subject and listing the tenets of crisis communication, one needs to understand what actually is a crisis and distinguish between a crisis and a situation. Irritating annoyances, uncalled for incidents and accidents are natural and bound to happen in every organisation. We as communications people have of late developed a habit of calling all such situations – crisis. Are they actually so? I doubt. Before the treatment starts, one should be sure if it is a problem or crisis. Generally it is a problem that’s confused with crisis.

Interpersonal conflicts, individual focusing issues give rise to problems whereas a halt in the routine, services or operations of the organisation that can hamper the reputation or affect its bottom line is supposed to be the crisis.

Crisis is a – Major – Negative – Public – Sudden and Unpredicted Event

Crisis can seriously – Disrupt Operations

Crisis hurts – Reputation and Revenue

Crisis and Reputation

As the crisis occurs and is visible to the publics its scrutiny too is done by the publics publically. That’s the aspect that can jeopardize the brand’s reputation. Flip side is that the same crisis can also be turned into an opportunity wherein the management can show its efficiency and portray true mission and vision of the organisation thus raising the reputation instead of losing it.

It is often assumed that crisis is accidental in nature and comes without warning. On the contrary it’s rarely the case. More often than not, the signs start appearing way before the actual crisis. All you need to do is pick those signs, predict it and even prevent. Good continuous monitoring and assessment can identify the potential hot spots of issues and suggest a mechanism to deal with it before it blows out of proportion and become a crisis.

All said and done, the fact remains that crisis is inevitable. It will happen sometime or the other. Monitoring and dealing with identified issues at early stages can only delay or prevent many of them but not all of them. How to deal with it when it happens? Follow these seven simple principles.

Seven Principles of Crisis Communication

  • Principle of Existing Relationships

In times of crisis, open the gates of communication and leave them open all through for all the stakeholders. The list includes employees, vendors, investors, and supporting elements in the day to operations of the organisation.

Their continued support helps re-build the reputation soon and in today’s era of social media they can be used well as advocates for the organisation.

  • Principle of Media-as-Ally

Organizations are best advised to treat the news media as allies in times of crisis. They are not the ones who created it. Although most of the time they seem to be the culprit but we need to digest the fact they merely do their job of reporting the incidents and not make them happen. Many crises undoubtedly can be avoided by way of not letting it meet the eyes of the public but it’s too distant a dream in today’s world wherein everybody with social media in hand is media in itself.

Media turns hostile mostly when the organisation refuses to cooperate and leave the communication channel open. Remain proactive in providing the legitimate information to media alongside clearing the doubts and clearing your stand. Existing media relations help minimize media hostility.

  • Principle of Reputational Priority

The top priority after safety issues should be to restore or safeguard reputation and standing by it. This acts as the core to guide you in deciding what to do and what to communicate to the publics. Using crisis as an opportunity to enhance reputation for social responsibility could be a good idea.

  • Principle of Quick Response

Become accessible to your targeted publics as promptly as possible. Experts suggest that a one-hour rule should be followed in times of crisis. Within the first hour of the situation a communication for publics especially media should be disseminated.

  • Principle of One Voice

It is advisable that uniformity in information is maintained by the organisation in times of crisis. Best if it’s just one spokesperson interacts with media, if more are required, they should be in sync with regards to the communication.

  • Principle of Disclosure

Silence is not an option in times of crisis. Due to legal constraints a complete disclosure may not be a possibility but then a complete blackout is also a strict no-no. Without admitting fault, the company should start sharing as much information as possible with the media.

  • Principle of Message Framing

That’s the tricky part and is to be taken care of smartly. The principle is that the organisation manages the agenda as much as possible and lets the story unfold in a controlled manner. It’s possible by being available and open within the first hour of crisis and becoming the source of information wherein you can control the flow of information and set the tone as well.

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Reputation Today is India’s only print magazine for Public Relations and Corporate Communications professionals. It is the official magazine of PRAXIS - India’s largest offsite summit for Public Relations and Corporate Communications.

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