By Michelle Rash
At RLF, one of our core strengths is crisis communications. We have several professionals skilled at advising clients on what – and what not – to say in the event of a crisis to help communicate to key audiences, and address any issues and concerns in the most effective way possible.
Crisis communications takes skill – say the wrong thing at the wrong time to the wrong person, and you can make a situation worse. You also need to be able to reach your audience quickly, yet calmly, under pressure.
While we have experience in drafting crisis communications plans and on coaching clients through tricky situations, it’s always good to have a refresher on the dos and don’ts of good crisis communications. Such a reminder was provided earlier this week at the PRSA Tar Heel Chapter monthly meeting where Nora Carr, chief of staff for Guilford County Schools, spoke on the subject. Carr has a deep background in communications and has worked with several school districts in times of crises, including Columbine, Colo., after the 1999 shootings and Moore, Okla., after a 2013 tornado destroyed an elementary school.
Among Carr’s tips for good crisis communications:
- Most people are not prepared for the crisis that actually comes. While companies plan for natural disasters and physical tragedies, the vast majority of crises (82 percent according to the Institute for Crisis Management) are the result of bad employee or management decisions.
- Expect the unexpected. While having a crisis plan is important, and one that is reviewed and discussed regularly, a crisis will not unfold in real life the way it does on paper. However, planning and preparing are still important because it will help you more instinctively make the best decisions under pressure.
- Communicate clearly, quickly and frequently. Carr says whoever gets the message out first will shape the agenda, and in the age of social media, getting the message out first can mean sharing information in a matter of seconds. She advises that facts are shared early and often, updating key audiences regularly as needed. If misinformation is shared, by you or someone else, be sure to correct and clarify as quickly as possible.
- Know your key audiences and how to reach them in advance. During a time of crisis is not the best time to create a media list or find the mayor’s phone number. Compile all the key contact information you need and keep it in a safe place. Update it regularly so it will be current if you need it in a crisis.
- Communicate internally first. Carr says that so often in a crisis, organizations are worried about talking to reporters or external audiences that they often forget to keep their employees and other key internal audiences informed about what is happening. These individuals can be key advocates for you, and have a vested interest in helping you through a bad situation, so make sure they know everything they need to know.
Good communication is key and can make a significant difference in how a crisis is handled internally and how it is perceived externally. While there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution, having a good plan in place and trusted partners in advance of a situation can make all the difference.