Crisis Communications: Thinking through the Unthinkable

May 23, 2012

Explosion. Accident. Undercover Video. Fire.

Single words, yet each is gripping in their implications of a crisis to a company. When a crisis occurs, a company’s immediate thoughts are on human safety and action to get a disaster under control, not crafting an appropriate message to media and stakeholders.

No matter the crisis, companies need to be prepared to respond quickly to many audiences. Having a crisis communication plan in place and an identified spokesperson(s) will allow a company to focus at a time when their attention is scattered in many directions.

Crisis work begins before a crisis.

A crisis communication plan contains many components. All depend upon one factor: A clearly communicated message to the company’s public. Three considerations are key:

  1. Media training for spokesperson(s)
  2. Tapping trusted relationships
  3. Monitoring

So you think you can talk to the media?

While a crisis team should be developed in advance to collaborate in preparing the proper message, the burden of delivery relies on one or two spokespersons. There are many poised public figures that thought they knew how to talk to the press but experienced that deer-in-the-headlight-look when the camera was rolling. Even the most collected personality can become flustered, particularly in a crisis situation.

Media training is vital to prepare a spokesperson with the ability to respond in a way that optimizes the message to all publics. Media training involves brainstorming possible scenarios and responses. The more preparation a team has ahead of time, the quicker they’ll be able to respond if a crisis does strike. Media trainers commonly conduct crisis “drills” to get the team used to mobilizing quickly and working through the process. These drills should include mock on-camera interviews with the spokespeople, too.

Top tips of media training:

  • ‘Jack’ be nimble. A crisis team should consist of the decision makers who are able to act without many layers of approvals. Be first with a message to reduce conjecture, rumors and negative detractors dictating the public’s perception.
  • Don’t say what you don’t know. Never speculate or be lured into answering a reporter’s question or provide information that you have not confirmed. Draft three key points and stay on message at all times.
  • Stop talking. When the message has been delivered or a question answered, no more needs to be said.

Make friends before a crisis.

When a crisis occurs is not the time to develop media relationships, build a social media community or cultivate trusted sources. Investing time and effort into developing strong relationships with the influential media in one’s space and building an online community before a crisis will allow companies to engage these relationships at crisis time and will likely minimize negative messages being spread.

Listen to and lead the conversation.

Monitoring is critical during, and after, a crisis. Through monitoring, a company can track the issues, be aware of what the media has published and follow what individuals are saying in social media. Then the crisis team needs to be prepared to jump into the conversation to correct facts, answer questions and share the brand’s side of the story including the steps taken to fix the situation.

Every crisis situation is unique. Preparing and training for what you hope will never happen in your wildest imagination will allow you to respond thoughtfully, collectedly and authentically should a crisis occur.

Click to learn more about crisis communications.

Paulsen Wins Big at Region III Best of NAMA

Megan Smith Joins Paulsen as Media Specialist


Derek Baune Celebrates His 5-Year Paulsen Anniversary