How to survive a comms crisis
As all PR and marketing professionals know too well, not all publicity is good publicity. Managing the reputation of any organisation can at times be a challenge, but for the housing sector in particular the risk of reputational damage is high.
There is the relatively small stuff, often relating to customer dissatisfaction that must be addressed. Then there’s the big, serious stuff – the major incidents that erupt and escalate when an organisation faces serious accusations about whether they could have prevented an incident or should have managed the aftermath differently.
Crises come in a number of guises, all of which require a bespoke set of crisis comms response tactics. Whilst there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution, there are clear strategic approaches to adhere to in order to ensure that your organisation is prepared for whatever comes your way.
Preparation is key
Where crisis comms is concerned, you can never be too prepared, and responding to a crisis is much easier if you already have a crisis plan agreed in advance. This will give you a clear process to work through at a time when others around you might be too concerned with the here and now to consider the longer-term reputation of the organisation. On a more practical note, it will set out who is responsible for what action during a crisis.
Before you are in the throes of a real-life crisis, it is also good practice to test your planned crisis comms approach by running through some worst-case scenarios for your organisation. Then, you can begin to think about how you can minimise the chances of these potential incidents and what you’ll do if they do occur.
Once you have this background in place you can devise a PR strategy that clearly lays out everyone’s responsibilities and actions in the event of a particular crisis. It’s vital to identify your key spokespeople and ensure they have professional media training to handle interviews, with the necessary balance of subject knowledge, authority, confidence and integrity.
Keep your cool and take control
When a crisis breaks, it’s important not to go into panic mode. The first step should be to gather as much information as possible regarding the situation, and speak to the people who are closest to the problem. Take your time and get the facts right. At all costs you want to avoid issuing false information or getting caught off-guard if important details come to light later on. If necessary, don’t be afraid to issue a holding statement and release updates as information becomes available.
Another important consideration is making sure that all staff are kept up to date internally rather than via external press or social media. Your members of staff are likely to be at the frontline of a crisis, particularly where customers are concerned, and need to be prepared to deal with likely questions from other customers or perhaps the media. Make sure they are aware of your key response messages and know who to direct press enquiries to in case that tricky journalist comes calling.
Don’t hesitate if you need to say sorry
In some situations integrity can only be maintained with honesty, and transparency can be a useful tool when dealing with a crisis situation. Unfortunately, there may come a time when any organisation makes a mistake, and sometimes the best approach is to apologise to give you a better platform to manage the situation from – and recoup some credibility. Your apology should be backed up with clear details about how you will resolve the matter, prevent it from happening in future, and how your customers will be compensated – as appropriate. To err is human, and you may well find your customers are more forgiving of an openly apologetic business.
Controlling the narrative on social media
One of the most difficult aspects when handling a crisis can be managing the narrative on social media. Social media platforms have fundamentally changed crisis management and can have a huge impact on how the story is told. More importantly, the speed at which a story can break is much faster.
Make sure you have a good presence on key social media platforms in order to monitor the conversation around your crisis and share public updates in real-time.
See Media helps its clients survive every stage of crises big and small. We’d love to talk to you about how we can support your organisation through the tough times.
Sarah Thomas is an Account Director at See Media