The perfect time to panic?
As communicators, one of the biggest challenges we face is effectively managing an organisation's reputation; particularly during a crisis. The genie team has become adept at staying calm in all sorts of sticky situations, ranging from very public banking crises, industrial accidents, redundancy programmes, business sales, #metoo and even a murder. A crisis situation is often our time to shine, and for many of us, it's the reason that we work in this industry.
Here are some of our top tips to effectively manage a crisis:
1. There is no perfect time to panic
In a previous role, an article appeared in the newspaper that shared some information about the business which the CEO didn't want to be public yet. I was frog marched into his office where he exploded. I let him. I let him tell me what I needed to do to fix the problem. And then I spoke to him about Toy Story - with this clip in mind.
I asked him, 'who would you rather be: Woody the Cowboy or Buzz Lightyear?' In the time of crisis, it's essential to keep a clear head. To carefully think about what, if any, action you need to take without rushing into anything. To keep your head together. In a crisis situation, you need to channel your inner Buzz Lightyear. There is no perfect time to panic #BemoreBuzz.
Creating a clear plan in advance of a crisis hitting is absolutely key to successfully navigating such a situation. As part of this plan, you should establish a crisis team including cross functional team members from your business. Identify key spokespeople and make sure they are media trained and capable of speaking on behalf of your business. Include their contact details in case crisis hits out of hours (it nearly always does!).
Develop clear and consistent messages that can be tweaked to reflect the situation you're managing, and make sure your internal and external messaging is consistent. This means you need a plan that is consistent for colleagues and social media as well as the press. Have a practice run to put your plan to the test.
3. 'You say it best, when you say nothing at all...'
If you google 'how to manage a crisis' you may be told that you must respond quickly. In fact, the best thing to do is often to say nothing. It's experience and a calm head that will help you to make this call.
Often, saying something will only inflame the situation and give the story legs, when your objective should be to shut the story down. If you do need to comment, be clear, honest and be succinct. Most importantly, stick to the facts.
4. No comment is never the right answer
You can decline to comment on a situation without saying, 'no comment.' The words 'no comment' imply guilt. If you need to respond to an incident, pull a statement together quickly. Be sensitive if there are victims involved and express concern on behalf of your organisation. Make sure that any colleague or media enquiries come through a single point of contact, to ensure message consistency and to avoid confusion.
5. Be bold
Sometimes as communicators, it's our job to tell the Exec the things they don't want to hear. This is never more true than in the time of an incident. This is the time for us to take control of the situation, which will involve moving people outside their comfort zones. Equally important is to manage the communication flow to these key individuals as the situation unfolds. Visibly sharing information will allow these stakeholders to see that you have everything under control.
6. If you need help, ask for it
If you're struggling to keep the crisis under control, or you're not confident to make the necessary decisions, ask for help. There are teams of people out there, like here at genie, who can take the pressure away from you and be your point of contact if you need it.
If you need a bit of support or just would like some advice, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.