media update’s Taylor Goodman takes a look at the importance of crisis communication and the role that PR pros play in smoothing things over. 

In a business context, a crisis is not limited to an earthquake or tornado — it is all encompassing. Be it personnel issues, scandals, natural disasters or technological mishaps, any possible scenario needs to be backed by a comprehensive crisis strategy. 

Hubspot defines a crisis as situations with the potential to cause great damage to your company no matter your industry, size or resources

As no businesses are immune to these hurdles, it is essential to  have a crisis management plan in place to tackle any potential dilemmas. A crisis management plan is a set of guidelines you have in place in case in your business finds itself in hot water

A meticulous crisis management plan entails:
  • steps to take in the case of an emergency — this includes an evacuation plan, designated meeting spots and a contingency plan in case your office space becomes unavailable. 
  • an action plan — this is a step-by-step guide that you will follow if a crisis ensues. 
  • crisis prevention —your strategy should not only look at the present but include how you can avoid any difficulties going forward into the future.
  • a comprehensive contact list —as you are likely to be frazzled during a crisis, it is essential to have anyone’s contact details that you would need in one place.  
  • pre-approved crisis communications — this includes the communications strategy you would utilise when communicating with your stakeholders, talking points and statements. 

Seven different types of crises

1. Personnel problems 

A personnel crisis in the workplace ensues when an employee is embroiled in unethical or illegal misconduct.

As an employer, who has — in a sense — invested in this individual, any faux pas of theirs reflects badly on you and your brand. 

When dealing with a personnel mishap, it is pertinent that employers evaluate the situation and follow the correct protocol in relation to disciplinary procedures, which includes making a statement if necessary

An example of a personnel issue that was handled perfectly is when a Red Cross Employee unknowingly tweeted a personal message about getting drunk to the American Red Cross Twitter account instead of her own

The company took a lighthearted approach by humorously explaining the mistake. Not only did they offer clarification to consumers, but they did it in an entertaining way. 

2. Financial crisis

This type of financial crisis occurs when a business faces any financial hardships financially. This usually takes the form of businesses losing value in its assets, resulting in them not being able to afford to pay off debt. This is caused by a drop in consumer demand and trust in your product or service. 

When businesses face fiscal dilemmas, a short-term solution would be that they move funds around to cover their losses. On a long-term basis, they would need to look into restructuring or making changes to their business operations that would assist in covering their losses.   

3. Accidents or natural disasters 

A natural disaster or an accident is the only crisis that is completely out of your hands, making it impossible to avoid. Some examples of this include earthquakes, floods, fires or any accident that could result in the loss of lives. 

The best way businesses can prepare themselves for these sorts of crises’ is to plan ahead. Having a comprehensive evacuation strategy and contingency plan is key to protecting your employees and your business. 

In the event of a natural disaster, it is advisable that brands are transparent with their consumers and update them on how you plan to tackle the issue at hand. 

4. Technological dilemmas

A technological glitch occurs when there is a breakdown of the technological tools, appliances or softwares that the organisation makes use of. 

This can cause major havoc, specifically in this day and age, as most companies are reliant on technology to conduct their daily operations. This could result in a major loss of revenue, as well as having a negative impact on productivity and a brand’s reputation. 
5. Orginisational mishaps

An orginisational crisis involves any wrongdoing done to a consumer by a business. This includes any crisis of deception, skewed management values and management misconduct

The best way a business can overcome any organisational issues is by mending it’s company culture to be more considerate towards the consumer. This will ensure that all employees place consumer needs above all else because at the end of the day, if you have no consumers, you have no business. 

An example of an organisational crisis is when seven people died after taking extra-strength Tylenol in 1982

Despite it being attributed to product tampering, parent brand Johnson & Johnson recalled all of what was once it’s most popular product and issued a warning about the capsules. 

The brand choosing to not go on the defensive and rather put the customer’s safety first, showed consumers that they care and restored trust in the brand. 

6. Scandals 

Scandals are any shocking allegations relating to behaviour or operations that are unearthed about an organisation. This type of crisis can be the most damaging to a brand’s reputation, especially in the social media age as sensationaliised news spreads fast. 

How a company deals with a scandal usually depends on its scale; for example, if an executive’s sexual preference is revealed and has no impact on their performance, it may not be necessary for the company to address it publically. In this instance, the news will naturally die down. 

However, in the case of a major defamation it is best to issue a press release on the matter as soon as possible, disarming any social media gossip and maintaining good faith with the consumer.

7. Crisis of malevolence 

In the competitive business environment, it comes as no surprise that brands are willing to do whatever it takes to come out one step above the rest. With this being said, there is still a difference between healthy competition and hitting below the belt. 

A crisis of malevolence occurs when competitors resort to extreme tactics or unlawful actions in order to ruin another business. An example of this would be hacking or product tampering. 

Although it would be impossible for a business to predict this sort of crisis, the best plan of action is to investigate who is responsible for the misconduct and doing what they can to minimise any damage

The three phases of a crisis

A crisis has three stages:  before it begins, the thick of it and the calm after the storm. When formulating your crisis communications strategy, you need to look at these phases and prepare accordingly. 

Pre-crisis is most important as this is where you can put your best efforts towards preventing any chaos. Here, you work on establishing your crisis team. This team will look at anything that could possibly go wrong and devise strategies to combat them. They will outline emergency precautions and also appoint a spokesperson who can address the public if need be.

In the thick of the crisis it is all about communication and weathering the storm. As a crisis can bring about major uncertainty, keeping a close eye on communication will ensure that your employees and clients are in the loop. At this point, it is also important not to fuel the fire with knee-jerk reactions as this will create panic. 

After the crisis has died down, conducting a post-crisis analysis will be beneficial to your brand. This will help you to gain an understanding of what works and what does not, allowing you to understand what you can work on in the future. 

A PR pro’s role in crisis communication

As a PR professional deals with maintaining a positive public image for businesses, it is no surprise that they are key players in crisis communication. 

In the event of a crisis, a PR specialist will work to change public perception by means of communication, handling customer and employee relations and marketing tactics. 

A PR assists during a crisis by
  • offering guidance — first and foremost, a PR specialist will assist your business by offering you advice on how you can manage the problem at hand.
  • handling press and media communications — time is of the essence and so when communicating with the public after a scandal, working with a PR team will ensure that any communication is consistent with your brand image, while still maintaining a sincere touch.
  • offering ongoing support —after addressing the public, your PR team will continue to update you on how you can manage these issues going forward, as well as the measures that you can put in place to prevent them. 
Do you have any useful tips on crisis management? Let us know in the comments section below.

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Want to know more about crisis communication? Be sure to check out Five common PR nightmares and how to fix them
*Image courtesy of Vecteezy