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When it comes to crisis management, many organisations adopt the ostrich philosophy – they bury their heads in the sand, wishing and hoping that nothing bad will ever happen. But navigating the waters of a potentially disastrous situation requires more than just wishful thinking. As PR professionals, we need to be prepared and comfortable to battle the waves.

Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to steer your company through a crisis and still come out on top.

1. Look, listen and be proactive

Have the foresight to know your organisation’s internal and external context by routinely scanning your environment and systems. Keep an ear out and listen to what employees, clients, customers and other key stakeholders are saying about your organisation. This will help you identify problem areas, perceive their likely consequences and solve them before they intensify.

2. Create a crisis action plan

While preparation on its own will not prevent disaster, it will better position an organisation to manage each situation adequately. Formulating a crisis action plan will help you brainstorm possible crisis scenarios, consider how situations might evolve or play out and identify response options.

3. Gather a crisis management team

It is important to have a team ready to respond to a crisis if, and when, when it strikes. These people will be responsible for gathering information in the event of a crisis, defining the underlying problem, assessing who the crisis will affect and deciding on the organisation’s official position.

4. Investigate what has happened

Have a thorough understanding of the full story before you react. You need to know exactly what has happened from an internal perspective and how your clients/customers/the media perceive the incident externally. This will determine your messaging and overall corporate stance on the crisis.

5. Delegate a spokesperson

Select a spokesperson to transmit the organisation’s message to affected stakeholders affected, and to the media. The spokesperson you choose will depend on multiple factors including the nature of the crisis, its intensity and how long it’s expected to last.

6. Choose your communications channels

Select communications channels that best deliver your messages to your audience. A press release will allow you to broadcast your response to the media, whereas social media enables rapid communication and dialogue. Your website should serve as the backbone for all communications, with updates made continuously to anticipate stakeholders’ needs.

7. Get the word out

The worst thing you can do during a crisis is to keep your stakeholders in the dark. Delaying communication will only create speculation and suggest that you are unable to control the situation. The rule of thumb is to make sure you respond within 24 hours of the crisis taking place – the quicker your response time, the better.

8. Be honest

This one speaks for itself. Honesty is essential to credibility, and dishonesty erodes trust.

9. Be accountable for your actions

Assume responsibility, apologise when necessary, and provide corrective initiatives. While crises may damage your image in the short-term, your response can set a foundation for long-term repair. Acknowledging that you are at fault and fixing the problem shows that you are have your stakeholders’ best interests at heart.

10. Evaluate your efforts

Analyse and measure the effects of your action plan by monitoring the media and social media landscape. Once the crisis has passed, carry out an overall assessment. No one wants to experience a crisis, but no matter how things go, you’ll always learn something valuable to help you be more prepared in the future.

Crises pose grave threats to an organisation’s relationships with its stakeholders. Effective communication, planning and strong ties, therefore, are key to the business’s durability: the stronger the ties, the better you’ll be at weathering the storm.

About the author:

This article was written by Jo Scard, Managing Director, Fifty Acres Communications Agency. With over 20 years’ experience in communications, political advisory roles and journalism, Jo Scard is Australia’s foremost strategic adviser to Not-For-Profits, entrepreneurs and government.

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