Merrily Orsini's Thought Leadership

When it comes to crisis communications, don’t panic!

Never is an agency under more stress and strain than during a time of crisis. Unfortunately, many agencies fail to develop and follow an adequate crisis communications strategy. The results of such an oversight can be disastrous.

But why is a predetermined strategy a necessity? What constitutes a crisis?
A crisis can be anything with the potential to adversely affect your agency’s message or reputation. A crisis occurs when one of your client’s homes is demolished during a tornado, or a caregiver is injured while tending to a client. The unexpected death of a administrative executive, the criminal arrest of a high-profile marketing person…all qualify as crises.

The truth is, every business is going to face rainy days. But how you react to those difficult times will make or break your business.

So how do you create an effective crisis communications plan? Here are some tips:

Consistency is important. Make sure no constituency is getting communication from more than one person.

 Create a crisis communications team consisting of
1.  a senior executive, and
2. individual communications reps to deal with employees, the media, customers and investors.

Create a phone tree – a list of people (employees, clients, clients’ families) who should immediately be contacted in the event of a crisis.

Create a communications system people can use to get more information.
 A special Web site with additional material is a great example
 A hot line where people can hear a recording or – better yet – speak one-on-one with a representative who can answer their questions.

 Act with speed and honor.
 Tell people what to expect.
 Don’t make excuses.
 Clarify what has been learned.  If more trouble is coming, let them know.
 Acknowledge uncertainty.
 If apologies are necessary, offer them, but don’t be defensive and don’t use the word “regret” or “at fault.” It sounds as though you are preparing for a lawsuit.

  Be quick to demonstrate your follow up. If a crisis is the result of a mistake your company has made, acknowledge the mistake
 Show what your company is doing to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Make restitution promptly.
If restitution has been made to affected families, let the media know. If new safety measures have been put in place, call a press conference and demonstrate.

 Help victims return to normalcy.

Avoid all “Red flags” for the media. Claims like
  “It’s just an isolated incident
  “We can’t take responsibility or we’ll be sued,” “Let’s not overreact”
 “The standards are unreasonable”

Behave as though your mother was watching and you have to explain your decisions and actions to her over dinner tonight.