crisis communications

Damaged Goods: Control the Damage Before the Damage Controls You.

This post is the latest in our series on crisis communications and “damaged goods.” If you missed our first article, take a look back at our tips for assessing the damage (don’t worry, I’ll wait). Once you know what type of crisis you’re dealing with and how deep it runs, you will be ready to figure out how to control, or at least contain, the damage.

Of course, we can’t emphasize enough the need for a strong crisis communications plan. Truly, this series was born out of hearing too many horror stories from IR and PR professionals. In listening to those stories, it becomes clear that one of the most toxic beliefs in the world of communications is the belief that a firm is “crisis-proof.”

What’s the first rule of crisis communications? As soon as you think you’ve got everything figured out, that’s exactly when a crisis hits.

Crisis Communications and Complacency

Immediately following the economic recession, many companies, especially in the financial sector, were motivated to develop easily deployable crisis strategies. Since then, an attitude of complacency has settled in though. Too many firms, especially smaller companies and startups, are unprepared for an incident that could harm their brand, reputation, public image, and earnings. Think of your crisis communications plan and implementation team as insurance against the worst case scenario.

In the digital age, every crisis demands rapid assessment and real-time engagement with consumers. Social media and the 24-hour news cycle means every minute that goes by without an official response will be filled with public speculation. While repairing the damage later is not impossible, it’s certainly true that the quicker you can issue a statement, the better chance you have of controlling the damage.

Use Digital Tools to Control the Damage

This atmosphere is challenging for companies in many ways, but especially when it comes to framing the story or managing the narrative during the early stages of a crisis. Still, the same tools used to spread the damaging information far and wide can be used to stay ahead of the damage.

Here are some ways in which social media tools can be used to control the damage during a crisis:

Enhanced Situational Awareness: Social media platforms can deliver decision makers invaluable information about unfolding events that would have previously taken hours or even days to filter through. The next time you witness a serious breaking news event, such as a fire or serious car accident, try searching for it on Twitter. It’s likely that you will find photos, videos, comments, etc. about the situation. This is the exact information, your company will want to use to guide your team as you craft preliminary messages to push out to stakeholders during a crisis. Use these types of events to design drills for training your crisis management team.

Enlisting the Help of Tech-Savvy Advocates: In addition to getting immediate, on-the-ground access to unfolding events, smart companies use social media to mobilize supporters. For example, suppose a competitor is engaging in a smear-campaign against your firm (I know! Perish the thought). If you have a way to quickly reach out to subject-matter experts with technical knowledge who can jump in and help you direct the conversation, you will have a great opportunity to regain control, while discrediting the dishonest party. Brainstorm with your team about this as part of your crisis strategy.

Allowing for a More Agile Response: Corporations and larger organizations are often slower to respond during a crisis than their small counterparts. Many levels of hierarchy, as well as external counsel, may have to weigh in before an official response can be released. The result is often a slow response, a muddled message, a failure to take responsibility, or an inability to control the conversation.

Simply consider a few of the crises on Forbes’ list of the biggest PR nightmares of 2017:

  • United Airlines’ Removal of a Passenger.
  • Fox’s Firing of Bill O’Reilly.
  • Pepsi’s ad featuring a model leaving a photoshoot to join a protest.

And this list was published in May. Since then, we’ve had the Experian credit breach, as well as several career-ending sexual harassment and sexual assault revelations. Anyone of these events would make for an excellent case study in how not to contain damage.

What all of these organizations have in common is that they ended up behind the curve and in many cases still have not recovered. Instead, have an army of advocates waiting in the wings who can issue well-planned talking points to buy you more time before the release of the official statement.

Just as these failures to control the narrative run rampant among corporations, there are also trends that show up across companies who consistently plan and manage crises well.

Responding Well During a Crisis

In addition to leveraging the above digital tools to control the damage during a crisis, companies that respond well have some or all of the following traits:

  • A dedicated crisis manager or team that owns crisis communications tasks.
  • An up-to-date plan including holding statements, other types of crucial messaging, internal communications processes, digital strategies, rehearsed scenarios, and an identified spokesperson(s).
  • An engaged CEO who is media aware (and ideally, media trained for crisis situations) and understands how to connect with communities, elected officials, regulators, and media influencers.
  • Established internal and external relationships.
  • An investor relations team, community relations team, and/or public relations team ready to be deployed whenever an incident happens.

Dealing with a crisis in a way that can control or contain any potential damage requires a strategy with strong and focused messaging that can evolve with the situation. Success also depends upon having an experienced spokesperson and other company contacts with crisis communications expertise. In addition, coming up with well-developed scenarios about anything that could go wrong with your company will help you and your team prepare.

As the clock ticks down on 2017, we’re all looking forward in anticipation of using what we’ve learned to make life and business go better. Ultimately, good crisis planning, preparation, and implementation is invaluable for your firm and your stakeholders. There’s no time like the present to set things straight.

At Audacia Strategies, we help our clients navigate crises from anticipated market turbulence to unexpected earnings drops and everything in between. We have experience prepping CEOs and spokespeople for on-the-fly communications during a crisis too. We’re here to be your port during the storm. Contact us today and together we’ll figure out how to control any actual or potential damage.

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