How well are companies positioned when it comes to crisis management? Does your company have a plan in case a crisis erupts? Public relations planning should be developed as part of an overall crisis management plan in order to sustain a positive and productive relationship with stakeholders and the community at large. Public perception can dictate the profitability, the success, and/or the failure of a company.
The 24-hour cycle of breaking news and the popularity of social media increases the awareness of mass disasters and targeted crises, perpetuates rumors, and accelerates and a potential “blame game”. Incidents, whether natural or man-made, become media events. In order to control internal and external perceptions, a company must prepare crisis management communication tools, processes, and procedures.
An exercised crisis management plan, as well as company policy, should dictate what information to release, by whom, and when. Information MUST be accurate and communicated in a timely manner. The execution of crisis communications should begin in planning phase, not on the verge of, during, or after an incident. Unfortunately, during the height of a crisis, bleak realities and raw emotion may alter communication agreements and promote misinformation.
Engaging with media outlets is often an element of a response and must be incorporated into the planning process. Through crisis management planning, specific training, and all-inclusive exercises, companies can avoid public power struggles and confusion before a situation occurs. While some companies dread the journalistic nature created by an incident, the media has the ability to rapidly communicate public safety messages that can potentially reach necessary resources. With affirming proactive public relation measures in place, communications can alleviate public anxiety and provide a level of corporate credibility and response competency.
The more detailed the information, the less chance the media will have room for interpretation. In order to regulate inaccurate perceptions, initial media communications should contain the following elements:
- A brief, focused, and factual description of the situation and initial response actions
- Processes established to minimize and counteract the emergency
- A statement of commitment to return to “business as usual”
- An expression of empathy
- Access to subject matter experts to answer media inquiries
- Timing for media follow up (only promise what can be delivered)
Typically, reporters covering a crisis situation want the company to provide more information than is possible. Most often, information is withheld because:
- Facts are still being gathered and confirmed
- The response is current, fluid, and changing
- Primary notifications and response communications supersede public relations (ex: notification of families, safety of staff)
However, by understanding journalists’ “expected” information, companies can create a public relations plan that results in appeasing, accurate, and seamless communications. In any crisis situation the media looks to answer the following questions:
- How was the crisis created (what happened)?
- Why did the emergency happen?
- Who/what is to blame?
- Was there forewarning?
- Are people and the environment safe?
- Are there additional risks and what are they?
- Are all victims accounted for and being helped?
- How does the situation affect the site?
- Can it be fixed?
- Who is in charge?
- Has the situation been contained?
- What can be expected, now and in the future?
- What can be done to protect others?
- What resources or actions are needed from the community?
Companies must be aware that media coverage of an incident can adversely impact employees, investors, customers, suppliers, and possibly the community. It may directly threaten a company's staff, reputation, infrastructure, and/or revenues. Public relations planning should be developed as part of an overall crisis management plan in order to sustain a positive and productive relationship with every level of stakeholder and the community at large.
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