When a crisis hits your organization, with whom do you communicate? How? When? Being proactive with your audiences, before an issue becomes public, will help build trust, create goodwill and, most importantly, articulate clear messages about the issue of the day. In the heat of a crisis, you can leverage and build upon that goodwill by directly communicating with your stakeholders, rather than waiting for them to hear about whatever it is through other external channels.
It can be challenging to manage all the moving parts. Communications materials need to be developed and countless planning and strategy meetings are taking place. It’s critical not to overlook the importance of communicating directly with the organization’s key internal and external audiences. Direct communications allow for a measure of control—over both content and timing—and can provide a truly authentic avenue for accurate information.
Every organization has ambassadors—those that are on the front lines in terms of receiving and conveying messages, whether officially or informally. They need to be armed with the right messages and appropriate level of details. Depending on the organization, ambassadors can be employees, students, board members, customers, investors, business partners, parents, alumni and donors. They need to be considered, prioritized and communicated with, and not necessarily at the same time or through the same channels. Being proactive could bolster their support in weathering the situation at hand. They could be references for the media and advocates on social media, helping to tamp down any criticisms.
Control the Message
An organization can and should control the message to its key stakeholders and audiences, rather than have the media tell the story for them. If, for example, an employee learns about a crisis online or through the media for the first time, it’s most likely that employees will feel blindsided and have questions and a certain level of frustration around a lack of communications from the organization. Transparency and openness in communications have become the expectation, and silence from the corner office is counterproductive to those tenets.
Messages should be simple, relevant to the specific audiences and easy to remember, especially as they will undoubtedly be shared more broadly, through conversations and social media, after they’ve been distributed to stakeholders.
There are so many avenues for communicating, and it can be tough to determine which to take. A multi-pronged approach is usually the most appropriate. For instance, email may be the quickest, most effective channel, but there may be stakeholders who are not easily reached that way and might require a mailed letter. There might also be an existing newsletter, blog post or regular meeting to leverage—so that the message comes within an anticipated and “normal” vehicle. Town hall-type meetings, robo-calls, video messages, website updates and social media posts are additional options to consider depending on the severity of the situation and the organization’s structure and culture. Some stakeholders are important enough that they should receive individual phone calls alerting them to the situation.
The ultimate goals for crisis communications are protecting an organization’s reputation and managing risk. By proactively communicating with key audiences in real time, organizations can effectively reach these goals and further advance relationships with all constituents.
In addition to designing and implementing innovative PR programs for clients, The Castle Group, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary, has extensive experience leading high-profile, high-stakes crises around litigation, sexual assault and misconduct/Title IX, workplace violence, data breaches, discrimination claims, financial and regulatory issues, leadership transitions and other issues that create daily PR challenges. Our crisis, PR and events management expertise is deep on both the consumer and B2B channels and our clients are local, national and international.
We can discuss your crisis communications and planning needs. Sandy Lish, principal and founder, firstname.lastname@example.org. The Castle Group is a proud sponsor of PRXNE. Castle leverages its Boston connections and global reach to create communications strategies that deliver business results, with an emphasis on PR, events management, crisis communications and digital. www.thecastlegrp.com.