Crisis communication is a method of corresponding with people and organisations during a disruptive event to provide them with the information they need to respond to the situation.
When a crisis occurs, proactive, quick and detailed communication is critical. A business should have a crisis communication plan that establishes a framework for spreading information to anyone affected by the situation. Without crisis communication best practices, people may respond inappropriately or incorrectly. It is therefore important to impart information to ease concerns and counter false information.
The phases of a crisis
A typical crisis includes five phases: pre-crisis, initial, maintenance, resolution and evaluation. An organisation must communicate during each of those phases and evolve its communication along the way.
1. Pre-crisis phase involves planning and education. One should monitor emerging risks, anticipate possible crises, educate interested parties about possible risks and suggest actions in the event of a crisis. Ideally you should create potential messages and communications and tests them. The crisis communication team should also be identified and they will be responsible for communicating during the event.
2. During the initial phase, the crisis has started and the organisation begins communicating. Because it may be a confusing and intense period, the organisation should seek to provide clear and accurate direction, provide resources for more information and calm fears if necessary. Even if there isn't a lot of information to provide, crisis communication is still important and should reassure people that the organization is working on a solution.3. In the maintenance phase, the organisation communicates updates on the crisis and details any ongoing risks. Gathering feedback from anyone affected by the crisis is important as well as correcting any misinformation.
4. When the crisis reaches the resolution phase, the situation has effectively ended but recovery remains and communication continues. The organisation should communicate how it is recovering and rebuilding. The resolution phase is also a good time to remind people how to be prepared in the event of another crisis.
5. During evaluation , two-way communication is important. The organisation evaluates and assesses how the response went and how it could be improved. The organisation reviews the crisis communication plan and updates or improves it accordingly. An after-action report comprehensively documents the crisis and response.
During and following an incident, each audience will seek information that is specific to them. “How does the affect my order, job, safety, community…?” These questions need to be answered when communicating with each audience. After identifying the audiences and the spokesperson assigned to communicate with each audience, the next step is to script messages.
Writing messages during an incident can be challenging due to the pressure caused by “too much to do” and “too little time.” Therefore, it is best to script message templates in advance if possible.
Pre-scripted messages should be prepared using information developed during the risk assessment. The risk assessment process should identify scenarios that would require communications with stakeholders. There may be many different scenarios but the need for communications will relate more to the impacts or potential impacts of an incident. Messages should be scripted to address the specific needs of each audience, which may include:
- Customer - “Is there an impact on your services?” “What there be compensation?”
- Employee - “When should I report to work?” “Will I have a job?” “Will I get paid during the shutdown or can I collect unemployment?” “What happened to my co-worker?” “What are you going to do to address my safety?” “Is it safe to go back to work?
- Government Regulator - “When did it happen?” “What happened (details about the incident)?” “What are the impacts (injuries, deaths, environmental contamination, safety of consumers, etc.)?”
- Suppliers - “When should we resume our services?”
- Management - ““How long do you think production will be down?”
Messages can be pre-scripted as templates with blanks to be filled in when needed. Pre-scripted messages can be developed, approved by the management team and stored on a remotely accessible server for quick editing and release when needed.
Another important element of the crisis communications plan is the need to coordinate the release of information. The “story” may change many times as new information becomes available. One of the aims of the crisis communication plan is to ensure consistency of message. If you tell one audience one story and another audience a different story, it will raise questions of competency and credibility.
Protocols need to be established to ensure that the core of each message is consistent while addressing the specific questions from each audience. Another important goal of the crisis communications plan is to move from reacting to the incident, to managing a strategy, to overcome the incident. Management needs to develop the strategy and the crisis communications team needs to implement that strategy by allaying the concerns of each audience and positioning the organisation to emerge from the incident with its reputation intact.
Resources for Crisis Communications
The following resources should be available and provisions should be made to set up similar capabilities within an alternate site in case the primary site cannot be occupied.
- Telephones with dedicated or addressable lines for incoming calls and separate lines for outgoing calls. At ClearPeople we only use softphones which means we can take or make calls from anywhere.
- Intranet or similar platform that can be used to inform employees
- Email (with access to “info@” inbox and ability to send messages)
- Webmaster access to company website to post updates
- Access to social media accounts
- Access to documents (ideally in the cloud)
- Hard copies of emergency response, business continuity and crisis communications plan, information related to business processes and loss prevention programs
Get in touch with one of our consultants if you need help with engaging your remote workers. Call 020 3376 9500.