Crisis communication - what is it and how to choose the right tools?

Crisis communication

Crises most often occur unexpectedly, so it is extremely important that crisis communication is prepared and planned well in advance. This makes it easier and calmer to carry out actions to mitigate and end the crisis situation.

  1. Adequate crisis communication requires a strategy developed in advance.
  2. Crises usually erupt unexpectedly. Whether it is negative comments on social media or one of a company's factories burning down - it is worth knowing how to communicate in a crisis situation.
  3. Most crisis situations can be adequately prepared for by working with professionals who, by analysing the company's activities and environment, will prepare a communication strategy for various potential crisis situations.
  4. In the absence of a crisis communication strategy, the crisis that has arisen and the actions taken should be carefully analysed, a single line of communication established and people appointed to communicate with the media.
  5. There are universal principles worth applying to crisis communication. An example is the 5Ps principle - Apologise, Prepare, Counteract, Improve, Repent.
  6. It is also worth choosing the right tools to communicate in a crisis situation. Among other things, you can prepare a press briefing, publish a statement or cooperate with an expert.

Crisis communication is a set of appropriate tools, uniquely developed for a given company, used to deal with the problem encountered. It is a so-called crisis manual, which is nothing more than an instruction on how to deal with a specific situation, or professionally speaking, a crisis strategy. Its purpose is to protect the company's reputation, not only in the media, but also among stakeholders and employees. Unfortunately, few organisations are prepared to manage crisis communication properly. Crisis communication is usually thought of once the crisis has erupted, which is usually too late.

Crisis communication is often a huge challenge for many experienced PR professionals, and even more so for those who do not have the necessary crisis management knowledge. It is therefore extremely important to enlist the help of specialists and to develop a crisis strategy in advance.

How do crises arise?

Crisis situations can range from a negative comment on Social Media to issues such as a technical failure in a factory that threatens the health and lives of employees or the environment. However, whatever the source of the problem, any one of them can escalate and expose the company to both reputational, partner and financial losses.

An important domain of crises is that they usually erupt unexpectedly. However, this does not mean that they could not have been foreseen and prepared for - quite the contrary.

How to prepare crisis communication?

Not every crisis can be prevented, but every crisis can be well prepared for. This is possible through constant and thorough analysis of the company's situation, market changes and environment. On the basis of these data, potential risks are estimated and a crisis communication strategy is developed. Depending on the size of the company and its business profile, several or even dozens of scenarios can be prepared to deal with various problems.

Communication in a crisis situation

The basis is the development of the crisis manual mentioned earlier. The document should contain information about the persons appointed to contact the media, a description of their functions, as well as their contact details. It should also include the previously mentioned action scenarios, i.e. the crisis communication plan. If one has been drawn up, it will be followed. Before taking action, however, it is worthwhile to meet with management and PR specialiststo summarise the established communication plan.

Last-minute crisis communication

When a crisis has already emerged and you are at a complete loss as to what to say to the onslaught of journalists and the ever-increasing number of stakeholders or partners - you have two solutions - look for a specialist available now (this can be very difficult) or gather the decision-makers and selected staff of the company and take action yourself.

First - the most important thing is to carefully analyse the situation and summarise all the facts (it is advisable to write them down, e.g. on a flipchart). Next, it is important to reflect on and develop an attitude that is desirable for stakeholders and the environment, while at the same time beneficial for the company, which will be the foundation of the communication. It is important to analyse a few possible worst-case scenarios of how the crisis will unfold and to set a response also in case the situation worsens. Another important point is to appoint a person or persons who will be responsible for contacting the media and stakeholders. The basis of crisis communication is for company representatives to speak with one voice and for their information to be consistent. This is why it is a good idea to describe the method of communication and the key messages in a plan, so that in a stressful situation each person has a kind of "download".

The company's crisis communication should be perceived by the target group as transparent and well-intentioned regardless of the problem. Therefore, the tone of the messages should be positive and empathetic, as well as indicating that the company is responsible.

Universal action in crisis communication

If the crisis is not the company's fault and it is caused, for example, by a rumour or a misunderstanding of information in the media, it is of course necessary to adopt a defensive attitude. On the other hand, it is important to ensure that the tone of communication is cultured, calm and polite, so that those behind the company are perceived as professionals and the company itself is sure to resolve the crisis without reputational and financial damage.

In the case of crises resulting from the actions of a given company, the simplest and almost universal principle of action in crisis communication is to the 5P principle, ie:

  1. PROVIDE - While admitting fault is very difficult for some people, it is always worth putting yourself on the side of those affected. An apology and admission of guilt shows that the company is responsible yet empathetic and can deal with the problem, rather than burying its head in the sand.
  2. GET READY - Many processes in crisis situations, which are likely to occur frequently, can be standardised. An example is the glass in the beetroot of one retail chain. The consumer reports the problem to the address clearly indicated on the website, and is then contacted by customer service, who apologises and promises to compensate for the unpleasantness of the situation. Such a situation could involve a nut shell in a cookie or contamination of a medicine. In each case, a single procedure can be established to deal with the 'worse' scenarios.
  3. COUNTER - Building further on the beetroot glass example, after apologising, the company should take steps to prevent further damage. It therefore reports the faulty batch of product to the relevant institutions and orders a recall of that batch to avoid another customer injuring themselves with a sharp item.
  4. IMPROVE - is the right place for experts to step in, i.e. the case is being investigated by specialists at the beet factory. They examine how the situation could have arisen and propose solutions to ensure that such a situation does not occur in the future.
  5. SHARE THE LOSSES - i.e. compensate for the fact that the consumer received a defective product. You can send a small gift, such as a set of your brand's products and a nice note. The consumer will certainly appreciate the company's sense of responsibility.

The 5Ps principle presents ways to act in the three phases of a crisis situation - phase I, i.e. before the situation: prepare and counteract, phase II - during the crisis: apologise and phase III - improve and recover. The universality and effectiveness of this principle is confirmed by numerous examples of companies that have applied it in a crisis situation and come out of it successfully.

Crisis communication tools

An example of such a situation is an accident in the shop of one of our clients. A piece of shop decoration fell on a person shopping in the shop. Good One PR Agency followed its strategy, i.e. contacted the victim, apologising for the situation and offering redress. It also prepared communications to the media, including information on checking the tightness of installations and decoration elements in all its shops. In addition, managers of the chain's other shops were trained in the proper installation of moving parts and all employees at the outlets received first aid training. The company also presented data from previous technical inspections.

Crisis communication tools

It is important to bear in mind that the more details provided by the company representatives, the fewer questions and 'additions' will be made by outsiders. Depending on the scale of the problem and the target group that may also be affected by the crisis, appropriate communication tools should be selected:

  1. Press briefing, a meeting with journalists during which company representatives brief journalists on the situation and answer additional questions.
  2. Media statementwhich can be posted both on the website and on all company social media. Remember that they need to be appropriately tailored to each medium and audience. A statement on the web will be longer and more detailed, on Facebook or Instagram aimed at customers it should be less complex, and on LinkedIn, i.e. to partners, stakeholders and employees, it should take a more official form than on FB and IG.
  3. Press releaseThe report should contain a description of the situation and the measures taken by the company. You will need a well-prepared database of media interested in the topic to send it out. This can be problematic if done at the last minute.
  4. Media monitoringIt is also a good idea to appoint a person who will keep an eye on the company and prepare a report on the company in all media - press, radio, TV and online. It is a good idea to appoint a person who will keep track of and report on what is happening in the media about your company.
  5. It is also important to choose the right internal communication tool and inform all employees about the situation in the company, usually to reassure them, but also so that if the media reaches them, the message is consistent. Depending on its size, this could be meeting, or an official e-mail sent to all employees.
  6. Expert - This can be a person from within the company with the relevant competence/experience or an external person who will confirm that the steps taken by the company are correct - this is particularly important in the case of crises that directly threaten the environment or the health of the public. It is about having the company backed by someone who is an authority in the field. It will help calm a nervous situation and give credibility to the message.
  7. Contact with stakeholders and partners - A tool that is normally used to contact this audience can be used for this purpose. It is important that every interested person receives the relevant information.

Given the multitude of crisis factors, it is worth preparing for potential situations that threaten a company's reputation in advance and to do so with the best specialists, who at the same time will be the communications management staff during the crisis. In terms of preparing a crisis communication strategy, we invite you to cooperate with Good One PR.