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Crisis communications top tips

Top ten tips for communicating in a crisis

I think it’s safe to say that everyone’s mantra when it comes to crisis management should be to predict the risks and ‘prepare for the unexpected’. And that’s definitely relevant to the current situation with Covid-19!

We’ve heard it so many times in the past couple of weeks, but we really are in unprecedented times. Not many of us would have predicted just a few months ago that we’d all be pretty much confined to our homes, unable to do the everyday things we take for granted, like meeting up with friends, going to the cinema, or even just going into the office for work each day. 

But the same can also be said for any other situation that we can’t fully predict; even with best strategic planning, you cannot prevent incidents from happening. However, being prepared for the unexpected, and having a crisis communications plan in place means you can keep your stakeholders informed and protect your company's reputation.

Keep calm and have a plan in place

As we all try to navigate our way through the Covid-19 situation and do our best to manage the predicament we’re in, I thought this would be a good opportunity to share with you our top ten tips for communicating in a crisis. This situation is particularly strange for communications professionals because we’re carrying out crisis communications for our employers and clients, while actually being in the middle of the crisis ourselves. Usually PR professionals are slightly removed from the incident itself, so the Covid-19 situation adds an additional layer of complexity. Right now it's more important than ever for communicators to keep calm in the crisis and have a plan in place.

  1. Think about success. From the very beginning it’s important to think about what success looks like. This will ensure you’re able to set clear objectives that will help you work towards an end goal and deal with the incident in the most effective way.

  2. Make time to think strategically. As well as firefighting any current issues, it’s also important to think about emerging issues for your business and what the reptutational risks might be. The last thing you want is to be caught off guard.

  3. Have the appropriate tools and resources ready. A crisis can happen at any time, and often when you least expect it. It’s vital to have the tools ready that you will need to manage the situation, for example: stakeholder distribution lists, holding statements and sign-off systems.

    You should already have someone in your organisation who is suitably trained in crisis communications and prepared to react to any situation. When planning your crisis management strategy, make sure you have the capacity to respond properly. If the incident is ongoing, you may need 24-7 comms support, so think about whether you have the resources to cover that. If not, you should bring in support for your team, including administrative support. If you don’t have the resource internally, you can use an external agency who will be excellently placed to take care of this for you.

  4. Stick to the facts. When a crisis happens, it can be tempting to speculate and say what we think may happen as a result. But it’s important when communicating with stakeholder groups, whether that be media, employees, local communities, investors etc, that you stick to just the facts. If you don’t, and what you say turns out to be wrong, you risk damaging your company's reputation.

  5. Don’t wait too long to communicate. If you leave it too long to react to a situation, people often fill the void with misinformation, or any other information that’s already been published by others. It’s important to communicate quickly on the situation, but with clarity and only the facts. That's why it's important to have holding statements prepared in advance that can be adapted to the details of the incident.

  6. Support your spokespeople. Nobody wants to be thrown in at the deep end to a situation they can’t cope with, least of all in the middle of a crisis! It’s important to ensure your spokespeople are fully trained and prepped before speaking with media so they are confident in responding. 

  7. Keep your stakeholders informed. Appoint a single point of contact in your organisation who will be responsible for liaising with stakeholders and keeping them informed. Share your media statements with stakeholders as soon as they are updated to ensure they’re kept fully up to date and don’t hear information elsewhere first. Stakeholders can also help to amplify your messages to their networks.

  8. Communicate with your employees. This is such an important part of crisis communications, especially in the current situation when people are looking to their employers for support. When communicating with your employees, keep it simple and use plain English so what you’re saying is easy to digest and there’s no room for misinterpretation. It’s also important to maintain consistent communications both internally and externally during a crisis (and always!). While your employees can be your company's biggest advocates, remember you don’t have control of where the message goes once it has been distributed internally. So it's important not to say anything internally that you wouldn’t say externally.

  9. Maintain a drumbeat of content.This is key, especially if the crisis is prolonged (like we’re currently experiencing). Let your stakeholders see how you're responding, adapting and taking care of their interests as the situation develops.

  10. Use social media wisely. It’s important not to ignore social media during a crisis. It can be used to communicate effectively with your stakeholders, however there is also the potential for negative comments. Be sure to monitor channels and react appropriately to any comments or stories that could be damaging. It's best to respond to complaints by thanking them for highlighting the issue and moving the conversation onto email or private message.

Once a crisis is over, it’s important to retrospectively look back at what happened and how you reacted as a business. You can learn from every situation and use the experience to not only ensure you don’t repeat any mistakes but also to recognise parts that worked well. 

An incident should be anticipated at any time, even when things appear to be going well; it’s almost inevitable that at some point we will be faced with a crisis. But by planning ahead and being prepared to respond, we can almost certainly reduce the impact that any such crisis could have on our organisation's reputation. 

Further information

If you would like more information on how JFG Comms can help your crisis communications strategy, please contact us or sign up to our blog. Our senior team have extensive crisis comms experience gained at Transport for London, Department for Transport and HS2. Our Founder and Managing Director, Jo Field is a Chartered PR practitioner and a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations.