When soldiers prepare for battle, I would assume that one critical element of their training, apart from getting ready for the actual fighting, is a retreat drill. Their lives could depend on a successful retreat so this exercise has to be done right.
You might be wondering what combat training has to do with public relations. In this case, everything. In the same way that soldiers need to safely and effectively exit a disaster zone with minimal casualties, so do organisations when faced with a crisis on any level.
Mistakes can turn into disasters
In this digital age, where anyone and everyone can become a writer and publisher, even small mistakes by organisations can turn into phenomenal disasters spread via social media and other channels. It has become more critical than ever that all organisations, regardless of size or type, have some sort of crisis communication plan. It would be bad enough that there is a crisis at hand, but not knowing how to communicate during the crisis can only have disastrous consequences.
For companies whose crises could adversely affect the public, the crisis communication plan should identify the spokesperson during a crisis. It is advisable that a media savvy manager of appropriate seniority, directly connected to the crisis at hand, would be a credible source of information. A CEO can also make for a good spokesperson during a crisis provided they are comfortable with the media and are well prepared.
When there is a situation, even internally, the last thing you want is parallel and unofficial sources of information to emerge. But this will inevitably happen if the people affected by the crisis are starved of information. Have a general idea in your plan about the avenues of communication that will be effective in communicating the intended messages timeously and effectively. Depending on the type and magnitude of the crisis, making well-calculated and effective use of social media can prove to be a winner.
Social media is important because that is where most people will go and offload their frustrations, ask questions and also see what other people are saying on the issue. As this is the space where unauthorised information spreads faster than you can type, managing it properly is crucial. Frequent updates that are informative and reassuring are the way to go. And just one tip, a well-meant explanation or apology devoid of any blame shifting will go a long way in restoring your company's relationship with your stakeholders.
Although it is always difficult to pre-empt the nature of the crisis beforehand, it has been proven that a good crisis communication plan can be very beneficial to a company's PR. Companies that have communication steps already stipulated well before a crisis, are less likely to send out confusing and mixed messages. How a company handles its communication during this kind of situation can either enhance or completely destroy its public image.
Competition is intense, not just for market share but also for public image. Not having a plan to save that image in potentially explosive situations is the same as engaging in combat with no retreat plan.
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