In ‘The Fundamentals of Crisis Communications (I)’, we outlined the importance of crisis communications and its various aspects. In this post, we are going to take a look at what can happen when an organisation faces a crisis without a proper crisis communications plan in place.
The early stage of a crisis is especially crucial. It’s very difficult to determine what direction the crisis is going to take in the beginning. If a team is in place, they can handle it; if not, the situation can get beyond them very rapidly. “This is particularly important in this age of instant technology, when a message or a tweet can go out in a second and be regarded as a global truth despite the fact that it may be completely inaccurate. These new, instantaneous technologies can be hugely beneficial as well when people know how to use them correctly. But they create the possibility of inflaming a situation with inaccurate information. Organisations need to have an understanding of how that works.” says Paul Dillon, senior associate at Baird’s CMC and crisis communications veteran.
The reality, though, is that for many companies crisis communications is not an integral part of the work culture. The plan and team are not up to date, aware of wider implications or in touch with recent developments and changes. Says Paul, “If a crisis occurs when the organisation is unprepared, you have to think on your feet and come up with things that may not be in a manual. For instance, if a tweet begins to build credibility, there is a whole other line of communication that the organisation may not be familiar with and can be extremely difficult to manage. Where is the information coming from? Who is the source? How do you create a source of information for people who are interested in the truth, in reliable information? These become the challenges.”
When the experts are called in, it is usually after the crisis has occurred and there is no plan. Then it’s a matter of taking control as quickly as you can and as far as you can with key decision makers. “When we are brought into a situation where the fire has already begun, that’s when experience and expertise become crucial,” says Paul. “Misinformation, violence, political interests…all of these can surface and need to be dealt with rapidly and effectively. We establish the nature of the crisis, what we can do to resolve it, and the mechanisms available to us to resolve it. A number of things need to be done simultaneously. Giving, receiving and responding to information is key in a crisis. Often, the bridge of communication breaks down. In such cases, it is helpful to establish a new bridge based on trust, to build a line of communication that is absolutely comprehensive, reliable and direct.”