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Follow These 4 Steps When Managing a Crisis

Signal AI is a proud sponsor of the PRSA 2019 International Conference in San Diego on Oct. 20-22.

Disaster has struck. Now what? This is the time for communications professionals to step up and take control. But how do you help manage when everyone from the CEO to your newest customer are in panic mode?

You manage the crisis and you manage it well. From staying ahead of the story by conducting continuous media monitoring to knowing when and how to communicate both internally and externally, we run through our steps for managing a crisis. Here are four tips that will help manage the crisis:

1. Stay ahead of the story

The first thing to do is to stay ahead of the story. The only way to actively monitor a crisis is by receiving real-time alerts. Did someone release new information about your company? Alert. Has a spokesperson made a statement? Alert.

During a crisis, you have to look like you’re in control and the only way to do that is by being informed. You will be in charge of informing key stakeholders and making sure you’re ready to answer press queries. Know what’s being said about you and start managing the narrative. Keep your stakeholders briefed and avoid them being surprised in public. 

2. Remember that actions are more important than words

When a crisis hits, actions are often more important than words. While it is absolutely necessary to communicate to the press and those directly impacted by a crisis, it’s paramount that you act first before making empty promises. It’s not effective to simply state what you’re planning to do. Key stakeholders want to know what steps you’ve already taken to remedy the situation as an indication of how you will continue to rectify it.

As a communicator, acting on a pre-curated and approved plan of managing and recovering from a crisis, you can guide the C-suite and the wider organization. 

Significantly, this means that any statements made to the wider business or the press can be made in the past-tense. Being in the position to state that you’ve “already convened a specialist team who are exploring this” or that “the business has already brought in an external security company to investigate the issue” will support your future decisions and demonstrate your understanding of the gravitas of the situation.

3. Tell the truth

You’ve monitored the situation and are ahead of the crisis and the story. As a result, you’ve been able to act quickly and commence your recovery plan.

But what about communicating this to those most affected by the crisis — from customers that have had their personal data stolen during a data breach to the demographics directly impacted by a controversial tweet from a member of your C-suite?

Communication — both internal and external — is of the utmost importance during a crisis, but it can backfire if you’re not completely honest. Even a little white lie will come back to haunt you, guaranteed, so make sure any official statement is entirely truthful. Honesty is the best policy.

4. Learn from your mistakes and learn some more

You need to keep the good work going in the aftermath of a crisis. The only way to avoid another crisis is by doing a proper postmortem. When did the narrative change and what was the reason for the change? Do an extensive audit and try to look at your own decisions objectively. Did you appoint the proper spokesperson? Was your apology released at the right time? Was your messaging on brand and did you win back your customer’s trust? 

Measure the impact of your work and show how your leadership and advice helped reduce the crisis and saved the company’s and customer’s reputation. Learn from your successes as well as from your mistakes and put a plan in place just in case you ever find yourself in a similar position. 

Every business and crisis is different. But we believe that we’ve come as close to creating a crisis plan as you can get. To learn more, come to our Interactive Crisis Wargame: Can You Save Your Reputation? workshop at the PRSA 2019 International Conference in San Diego on Monday, Oct. 21, at 2:40 p.m.

Caity Dalby is the content manager of AI-powered media intelligence platform, Signal AI, and specializes in copywriting, content strategy, and the production of industry whitepapers and reports. Download Signal’s 8 Tips on how to manage a PR crisis effectively for more tips. Get in touch with Signal AI via emailTwitter, and LinkedIn.

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Caity Dalby

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