Emergency! Communicating in a crisis.
For the first time this year as part of Leeds Business Week, we became a partner and ran one of over 100 events that attracted thousands of attendees from across the city’s business community and the wider city region.
With our belief in being a ‘Positive Influence’, we wanted to make sure that whatever we did would give attendees real hands-on experience and knowledge that they could take away with them.
So we designed a live, real-time, crisis communications exercise to test how prepared our brave guests were in handling communications in the digital age.
The feedback we’ve had since the event has been fantastic, so we thought that we’d give those of you not able to attend a brief run-through of what we covered, from the moment a story breaks, through best practice in media and social media handling, and crisis resolution.
We actually started our session 24 hours in advance of the event itself, when we emailed all of those signed up with a background document on a fictional business they would attempt to steer through the impending crisis.
The emphasis for the workshop was on practical advice they could use in their everyday jobs, and how to avoid some of the common mistakes that get made in the heat of a media crisis.
The key steps included:
- Initial response
Don’t rush towards a communications solution but make sure that the right processes are in place to deal with a developing situation. Key elements include prioritising activity, roles and responsibilities, establishing the facts, agreeing appropriate and proportionate response levels, checking and double-checking and thinking about long-term strategies.
- Dealing with the media
Too often in dealing with the media, time and effort is given to short-term damage limitation, which often involves ‘what do we want to tell them?’ and ‘what don’t we want to tell them?’ The problem with this approach is that trust can break down and if information is seen to be ‘spun’ the consequences can be severe. The tip is to thoroughly think through the questions you are likely to be asked and make sure you are able to provide straight, accurate and factual answers, to appear knowledgeable, reassuring and in total control.
- Effective social media management
With social media being a true two-way conversation and something that can amplify a crisis at alarming speeds, focus on ensuring that correct processes are in place. These help to identify different audiences posting e,g customers, journalists and trolls, recognising the types of posts you should respond to and agreeing what purpose social media channels have in a crisis, from problem solving to signposting.
- Internal communications
During any communications crisis the natural focus can be on external audiences. However, internal audiences often need significant reassurance and guidance in order to manage the situation successfully. From customer-facing statements to FAQs and internal process guidelines, committing to internal communications provides confidence and leadership in challenging times.
- Handling a story as it develops
In most crisis communications situations, it’s sensible to assume things will get worse before they get better. If you’ve got the initial response right, you will have hopefully been able to foresee how this might happen and have planned accordingly. Critically, you should have thought about escalation processes and what to do as a situation deteriorates, but also looked at how you can move the situation on.
We’d like to thank everyone who took part for rolling their sleeves up and getting really involved with the exercise. All that remains is for us to start thinking about next year’s event and how we can create an even bigger mess to communicate out of!