Natural disasters, scandals, product recalls, work stoppages; there are a multitude of crises occurring constantly. A crisis is simply defined as a major occurrence with a potentially negative outcome.
In a crisis, emotions run on overdrive, minds race, and events happen so quickly that writing a plan amid this situation is impossible–just following one is hard enough.
Crisis management is a process of strategic planning for a crisis–one that removes some of the risk and uncertainty from the negative occurrence and allows an organization to be in greater control of the outcome.
Crisis communications is defined as the dialogue between an organization and its publics prior to, during, and after the negative occurrence. The dialogue created is intended to minimize damage to the organization’s reputation.
Effective crisis management includes crisis communications, which not only can alleviate or eliminate the crisis, but also can sometimes bring an organization a more positive reputation than it may have had before the crisis.
There are various public relations programs that can be utilized during a crisis. They include media, community, employee (internal), consumer, government, and investor relations.
Research indicates that companies with ongoing two-way communications often avoid crises or endure crises of shorter duration or of lesser magnitude. Research also shows that companies with a crisis management or crisis communications plan generally come out of a crisis with a more positive image than companies without a plan.
Crises typically go through distinct phases. The first is detection. The detection phase—or prodromal phase—may begin with the appearance of warning signs. Some crises have no noticeable prodromes, but many do.
When an organization in the same or similar industry suffers a crisis, that can serve as a warning sign. The Tylenol tampering case was a prodrome to other over-the-counter drug manufacturers. Most heeded the warning and converted to tamper-proof containers.
An organization should watch for prodromes and make attempts to stop a crisis at this initial stage, before it develops into a full-blown crisis. A corporate culture conducive to the positive and open interaction of stakeholders can minimize the effects of crises, as can the inclusion of crisis management in the strategic planning process.
Depending on the type of organization, crisis prevention tactics can involve many actions, such as safety training, a whistleblowing policy, and ongoing community engagement.
Crisis preparation is necessary for dealing with crises that cannot be prevented. For example, Pepsi had no way of anticipating the scare in which hypodermic syringes were being found in some cans of Diet Pepsi. The crisis communications plan is the primary tool of preparedness. The plan tells all key people on the crisis team what their roles are.
Containment, the second phase, refers to the effort to limit the duration of the crisis and keep it from spreading to other areas of the organization.
The third phase is recovery, which involves efforts to return an organization to “business as usual.” In addition to restoring normalcy, recovery can involve restoring public confidence.
The fourth and final stage, learning, is the post-mortem phase; this is where procedures are analyzed in order to make the event a lesson for the future.
One way to look at crisis communications is to dissect it into three stages: prevention—preparing before a crisis occurs; management—communicating during the crisis; and recovery—communicating post-crisis.
Prevention involves planning and preparing communications procedures before a crisis occurs. Research and preparation in this first stage are key. An organization’s main goals are to anticipate and prepare for potential crises, and attempt to prevent them before they occur.
The second stage of crisis management is managing the response and communicating it to all interested parties. Time is of the essence in responding to a crisis effectively. A delayed response can be devastating to an organization’s reputation.
The third and final stage of crisis communications is recovery—communicating post-crisis. This look-back stage begins immediately at the end of a crisis.
Post-crisis communication is what an organization says and does after a crisis. In this stage, an organization will attempt to salvage its reputation, while gathering key learnings and undergoing the healing process.
Today’s instant communications environment places a higher premium on crisis management; unprepared organizations have more to lose than ever before. The factors that increase the need for effective crisis management are an increased value of reputation, stakeholder activism through communication technologies, negligent failure to plan, and broader views of crises.
Martino Flynn can help your organization prepare a crisis communications plan. Contact Ray Martino, firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 585-641-4540.