It takes years to build a positive corporate image through a presence and good acts over the years. A solid reputation is like the foundation of a building, on top of which, additional levels can be built and achieved, on the strength of that foundation of a solid reputation.
It can take years to create an enviable reputation – it can take even longer to restore the publics confidence if a crisis is seen or perceived to have been mishandled.
There are differing opinions on the key elements of an effective crisis communications plan. However, it has generally been my experience that no matter the specific contents within your crisis communications plan, once the crisis occurs and the need to effectively communicate to your respective audiences arises, all of the experts support following seven key criteria in dealing effectively with a crisis once it has occurred:
1. Tell it all and tell it fast. There is no better or more effective way to stop speculation about a situation; establish credibility as a reliable source of information; and to take control of the incident and the flow of information. There is one caveat however. It is imperative that you are certain of your facts. You cannot be seen to either be over-reacting to the situation, or, under-estimating the significance of the situation.
2. There must be only one designated spokesperson. Nothing is worse than having several different people speaking on and attempting to explain a situation in different or potentially conflicting ways. This situation can quickly destroy credibility which is why it is so important that one senior person in authority be designated to handle all of the communications functions, from the beginning of a crisis until it is concluded.
3. All available information, so long as it does not involve security or confidential issues or potentially violate people’s privacy, should be made public. It is important to determine and once determined cover all of the bases within a crisis situation. Failing to do so, or choosing not to share information on a particular area, can result in questions focusing in on that area and making it appear to be far more significant than it may be, simply as a result of its original omission.
4. Provide regular updates. Providing regular and timely updates serves to build trust and credibility. Conversely, lapses in the flow of information can result in speculation and heightened anxiety around a particular situation. As stated earlier, it is however, imperative that you ensure that your information is accurate before sharing it with the public or the media.
5. Recognize that the less people know about what is really transpiring the more they fear the possible consequences. Uncertainty breeds speculation and rumours, and you can ill afford either in a crisis situation.
6. Recognize that as a by-product of living in an increasingly technological world, the potential for a crisis situation to occur is equally increased. The more complexity we add to our environment the more possibilities exist for disruptions.
7. Companies MUST plan for crisis communications in advance and prioritize ensuring that plans are regularly reviewed and kept up to date. Companies must anticipate a crisis before it occurs and have a communications plan prepared and ready for use when the time comes, and it will.
Having a comprehensive crisis communications plan in place allows staff to have a resource when the time comes, which will allow them to follow the guidelines established in the plan, both in responding to the crisis and in responding to the media, which will hopefully serve to maintain and protect the company’s reputation.
At some time, your business will likely be faced with any one of a number of situations, such as fire, earthquake, food poisoning and other threats, accidental death and other accidents resulting in personal injury or public liability, major criminal acts, and disputes by employees, customers and unions.
A bad first response, no response, or a late response to a crisis, will severely affect your image, and, if you are part of a larger brand, could negatively impact the overall brand as well, increasing the negative impact, substantially. The error, in addition, may be amplified or repeated continuously by media coverage as the crisis develops and unfolds. If the situation is severe enough or persists over time, public confidence will be seriously eroded, support diminished, and sales lost or cancelled.
The role of an effective crisis communications plan is to defuse negative situations which have the potential to damage your business, your image, and as a result, your short and long term goals.
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