Here are my 4 Rs of Crisis Communications:
Recognition takes place on several levels. Exercising constant vigilance, PR Pros monitor the environment in which their organizations operate: assessing industry trends, listening for stakeholder criticism or concern, evaluating and prioritizing reality-based scenarios, and translating their learnings into informed communications sections of crisis response, and business continuity plans.
Having analyzed the risks and created a plan, the next phase is rehearsal. Employing a combination of media training sessions, tabletop drills, and the more complex if required. We test, poke and prod our plans, to see how well they work and more importantly, where they might fail. We also accustom the rest of the organization to realizing the criticality of timely, transparent communications. By making communications integral to the crisis training regimen, we ensure that senior leadership understands the stress, and special needs imposed by the news media and public. As they work to manage the operational, fiscal, and legal aspects of the situation, they also much realize the importance of identifying and training a spokesperson, or spokeswoman.
Effective rehearsal leads to effective response. With fully vetted crisis communications plans and staff, the response to a crisis will be faster and more comprehensive. Through the planning process, PR Pros know the types of crises they face, understand how and why the organization will respond the way it does, and stand at the ready, with fill-in-the-blank statements, pre-approved by the CEO, legal and other relevant key executives. Faced with instant and intense media interest, whether traditional or social, organizations must be ready to deliver their own statements before the media finds some other, more accessible source to speak with!
Response connotes positive, active, controlled attention, focused on resolving the crisis as satisfactorily as possible. Whereas reacting to a crisis, reveals an organization controlled by the crisis, tossed about by the gale, struggling to stay afloat. Response speaks to a plan, and to a prepared and confident team. An organization simply reacting to whatever may happen next is adrift, with every chance of making its situation much worse.
As the crisis winds down, recovery is the time to consider what lasting damage may have been done, and what short-and long-term communications and outreach efforts may be needed to repair reputations, meet the needs of victims or defend against potential lawsuits. Recovery is the time to start reconstituting the resources needed to cope with the next crisis, and to also thank those who helped weather the crisis (an often overlooked task.) As we recover, we need to capture lessons learned and determine where our planning could have been better. This leads us right back into the recognition phase, because crisis management and crisis communication are never finished; it’s just a matter of where you are in the cycle.
A final thought about crisis response formulas: We often face more than one crisis at a time, in various stages of the crisis cycle. Resources are spread thin, stress takes its toll, potentially causing respondents to become sluggish or mistake-prone. By focusing on the inherent opportunities, and adopting this type of approach to crisis communications, we can seize the day and play to win!