How will YOU deal with your next crisis?
Hello! I’m Hannah Goldshlack-Wolf, Senior PR Manager of the US offices at WildKat and self-professed crisis communications nerd (yes, it’s a thing). I started working in performing arts and classical music communications about nine years ago, and I have watched individuals and whole organizations face public scrutiny for crises ranging from everyday flubs to lawsuits to complete disasters. I am here to tell you that a crisis can happen to anyone, at any time, for any reason. And, the crisis itself is only half the battle.
One of the most important philosophies in business is to hope for the best but plan for the worst, the operative word being PLAN. Just as it’s crucial for you to have a fire escape which you may never use (except for reading Murakami novels and sipping Cab Sav on a warm summer’s evening, if you’re anything like me), it is crucial for you to have a reliable, customizable crisis communications plan for those moments which may be few in numbers, but significant or even catastrophic in its impact. And, with everyone living on their phones, to say “news travels fast” is an understatement. In reality, you have a very narrow window in which to get ahead of the ugliness that can stem from allowing others to misconstrue the facts or blow things out of proportion.
So let me be clear: I want your business to thrive. I want you to succeed. I want your followers to have so much trust in you and your brand that when a crisis inevitably strikes, it will be merely a blip on the radar in hindsight – or, even better, an opportunity to show the world how to handle a crisis with grit and grace. But, that means swiftly opening the doors of communication, and out of respect for your customers or fans and their loyalty, explaining what went wrong and what you are doing to fix it. So with that, here are a few tips for getting ahead of a crisis:
- State your message before someone else states it for you, and incorrectly at that. Timing is key for crisis communications and the more you have mapped out in advance, the more quickly you will be able to get ahead of the messaging.
- Accept responsibility, but not necessarily culpability. Something unfavorable happened under your watch, and regardless of who or what caused it, you owe it to those who put their trust in you and your brand to take action. That said, if the crisis warrants an investigation, do not place blame on anyone or anything, and avoid any speculative language.
- Apologize. Sincerely. Your consumer base is savvy and they can spot a non-apology a mile away. Do not make the situation worse by sounding disingenuous, dismissive, or defensive. Tone is key, which means you also need to make sure any unrelated press releases, social media posts, newsletters, or announcements are rescheduled. It is not a good look to push your next digital ad campaign an hour after confirming an IT security breach, for example.
- Not all crisis messaging is external. Yes, you have to speak to your followers and you will likely need to address the press (strategically). But, if you have employees, you need to answer to them. Shareholders or donors? Yep, them too. Influencers? Absolutely.
- Not all crisis messaging is top-down. Utilizing your assets at all levels of management can bring about a quicker resolution. Furthermore, the front-facing members of your team who interact with the general public regularly can drive feedback to all the upper channels, serving as a gauge for how your approach is being perceived.
- Have a company audit to build a robust plan. On a biannual basis, review your crisis plans. Update them according to shifts in your company culture. If you’ve had a change in personnel, it should be reflected in your plan. If you have new social media protocols, it should be reflected in your plan. If you have a new parking structure, it should be reflected in your plan. Notice a pattern?
While WildKat can, and does, lead crisis management communications campaigns after a crisis occurs, we are now also thrilled to offer crisis communications audit services, building a full profile of your company with hypothetical scenarios, key messages, protocols, and team development. Let’s talk. Let’s plan.
Reach out to us at hello[@]wildkatpr.com!