Principles of Crisis Communications
By Valeria Carrillo
We’re almost at the end of 2020 and a lot of us are wondering if it could get any worse. This year, many brands learned tough lessons when it came to crisis communications. To ensure you’re not one of them, prepare your crisis management strategy so you’re able to tackle anything. Here are four important principles of crisis communications for 2020 and beyond:
1. Simplify what’s complex.
Information should be accessible — meaning people should easily be able to access it and understand it. In a state of crisis, people want to know exactly what’s happening. Explaining things in a complicated matter, like using industry jargon, will confuse the general public, and it even leaves room for people to make interpretations of their own. Be in control of your narrative by stating things clearly and simply.
2. Connect to purpose.
Don’t just dump a bunch of bad news without giving any sense of action or purpose. For example, CEOs were faced with addressing COVID-19 without knowing much about it themselves. Instead of just acknowledging that it exists, some CEOs were saying things like they’ll cut their salary first or just openly admitting they’re unsure of what to do, but they relate to everyone’s fears. It’s okay to be a leader who’s scared, you just have to be confident in your leadership.
However, if your brand has a purpose or made a promise, you have to deliver on that. If your brand had a purpose from the beginning, it should always shine. It shouldn’t come and go with whatever’s trending on Twitter. As work/life boundaries continue to blur, employees are increasingly conscious of their company’s values and hold them under a microscope of accountability to ensure that their standards are in alignment. People follow brands that said they were going to deliver/change and when they don’t, it will be known. But, if you don’t have a purpose—whether it be fighting climate change or being antiracist—your announcement may not go over well. For example, some brands faced backlash for saying they’ll be committed to being antiracist, but in 2020, it’s a little too late to recognize that racism exists and you’ll finally do something about it. Be careful with your wording and with making promises you don’t intend to keep.
3. Be human first.
Being vulnerable isn’t always associated with leadership, but to really build trust, people need to know you. They will be questioning you and your leadership wondering: Do they mean well? Are they able to share failures openly? Can they share who they are? Do they have the willingness to apologize when wrong? You need to be the one to trust and once it’s broken, it’s very hard to repair.
One way to be vulnerable is to make yourself available—to employees, media, investors, etc. It’s one thing to deliver to a digestible report, but another to be able to respond to questions and concerns. If you’re not sure, don’t lie—that will later ruin your credibility. Just be open and say, “Here’s what I know as of today.” A leader is able to say “I was wrong,” especially during a time like COVID, with so much changing and new information. We know no one can predict the future, but what’s important is doing the best thing for now that has accounted the best for everyone. Be a learn-it-all instead of a know-it-all.
4. Building trust with transparency.
Like we’ve mentioned before, be as open and honest as possible. If you’re not transparent, someone’s going to find out anyway. An important thing to remember is to make sure you’re being heard and that you’re listening. If there’s no way to follow up on what you’re saying, you’ll never know if your message is resonating—until it’s too late. There needs to be a listen and feedback loop. Just listening in the moment is tactical, but not for building a long-term listenership/relationship. You’ll be able to manage your brand and reputation better when there’s an ongoing relationship and trust is built. If you’re listening to people’s concerns with the intent of changing, that promise must be fulfilled or else you wasted people’s time and efforts, and you may not get another chance.
Transparency should also be internal. Communicate with employees and make sure that there will be zero surprises. An effective listening mechanism has to exist across the organization as well. When people want to be heard, they will make it happen. Listen to problems early on and act it on before you start reading it in the news.
No matter the crisis—people will focus on the way you responded and how you handled the issue—so always be prepared! If you’re unsure of where to start, contact us and we’ll lead the way.