Risk is growing across the globe for companies of all shapes and sizes. The proliferation of communications channels has made it easier than ever for brands to reach audiences. However, it’s also opened the floodgates to the risk of misinformation and things spiralling when things don’t go right.
And with technology becoming increasingly political and at risk of attack, crises for tech organisations are becoming increasingly common.
While it can be tempting for companies to bury their heads in the sand when it comes to crises and think ‘it won’t happen to us’, it does. From cyberattacks and data breaches to mass redundancies and CEOs that walk the fine line between revolutionary and a liability, the risk factor goes on.
So how can companies prepare for the worst?
Ultimately, the public understand that crises happen, everyone is human and some risks are simply unavoidable. Crises can be forgiven, if addressed properly – nine times out of 10, the response is actually more important than the crisis. Unfortunately, many crises are met with ill-prepared, sometimes disingenuous responses. Largely, this is down to a lack of planning. Having a proactive crisis comms strategy is far easier (not to mention) less stressful than being reactive and on the back foot.
While not every company can plan for every crisis that may happen, there are scenarios that can be predicted to an extent. One of the first stages in our process when we work on crisis strategies with clients is a workshop exploring possible crises, how likely they are, the best to worst case scenarios, who would be the most impacted etc. For many companies, it can be a challenging day, however as the old proverbial saying goes, fail to prepare, prepare to fail.
Most of the time, we’re approached reactively when a crisis is just about to break or already has. This is arguably the worst time to engage as you’re already in the thick of it and struggling to see clearly.
Who’s communicating and to whom?
A crisis communication plan should clearly state who is authorised to execute the plan and under what circumstances. The last thing a business needs when a crisis hits is people panicking with no direction or responsibility allocated. You’ll want to have a firm plan of who is responsible for different elements of the strategy – whether that’s communicating with stakeholders, fielding calls, monitoring responses, talking to the media etc.
Businesses also need to consider everyone that needs to informed about the crisis. It can be easy when a crisis hits to simply think about external stakeholders. However, how you manage it with employees is often just as important. Stakeholder mapping should be an integral part of a crisis strategy, and again, one that’s best done ahead of a crisis happening. This mapping might cover things like: what are the different key messages we need to get across to each group, how quickly and to what extent to they need to know, and how does this impact our relationship?
Respond quickly and with transparency
On the most important part: the response. There’s so much to say here, much of which is dependent on the nature of the crisis, however there are some universal hints and tips which should be deployed regardless of the crisis:
• Respond quickly, but not at the expense of your statement being inaccurate.
• Select your spokesperson carefully. Crises are stressful (and sometimes downright traumatic) enough as it is. The last thing people want to see is a spokesperson that comes across as disingenuous and unprepared. I’d always try and avoid anonymising spokespeople where possible, too. People need to see the human side of a business in times like these. Where possible, use a senior leader in the organisation.
• Don’t point the finger/blame individuals.
• Be straightforward and factual. Don’t use flowery language or overshare, it’s not the right time.
• Have genuine compassion for any victims.
• Clearly state your next steps and actions your organisation will take, along with timelines.
• Decide whether you need another follow up a couple of days later (this will depend on the nature of the crisis).
• Monitor social media and traditional media regularly in the days and weeks following the incident.
• Wherever possible, don’t say ‘no comment’, unless there are legal implications involved.
Ultimately, for many companies, crises are unavoidable. But having a pre-prepared strategy in place can make a challenging situation feel less overwhelming. A well thought through crisis communications strategy means a business can respond quickly, effectively and with compassion, whilst building transparency and trust in their organisation and counteracting any misinformation.
Lucy Moore is associate director and head of tech at Refresh