Is it possible to train for a crisis—to take a crisis communication class and prepare oneself to overcome a situation that could ruin one’s reputation or livelihood? At Red Banyan, we emphatically say yes. In fact, we help people from all walks of life do so every day.
As one of the nation’s premier public relations crisis management firms, we put our skills and experience to use helping scores of individuals and organizations confronted by crisis. But instead of keeping secrets about what we do, we’ve developed a crisis communications training course to share everything we’ve learned, so that our clients will be better prepared to handle any crisis on their own.
What is a Crisis?
A crisis is a time of intense difficulty or danger. Every one of us will eventually endure a crisis of some sort; the only question is how severe it will be. It could be as existential as the Cuban Missile Crisis, an epic confrontation that pushed the world to the brink of nuclear war. Or it could be confined to our home or workplace, a flare-up that seemingly comes out of nowhere to wreak havoc on our daily lives.
But in each instance, there comes a time when critical decisions have to be made if the crisis is to be resolved. It is a time for clear thinking and decisive action. As part of the crisis communication plan training that we provide, we’ve broken the act of making those critical decisions into a step-by-step process. And it all begins with a strategy.
Creating A Crisis Strategy
When you enroll in a crisis communication workshop, you’ll get pointers on how to develop a crisis strategy specific to your business. A crisis strategy is a roadmap for dealing with a crisis situation. If you don’t have one, you are essentially entering a minefield and hoping for the best.
The best time for a company to create a crisis strategy is before any inkling of a crisis is known to exist. That way, you are being proactive, instead of reactive. Developing a crisis strategy during a time of relative calm allows you to think through a number of possible scenarios and decide upon the best course of action to take to avert disaster.
For starters, you should assess your organization’s vulnerabilities with an experienced crisis professional. Taking an unbiased approach, they can point out possible areas of concern or even situations that could invite potential lawsuits. That way, you can shore up any weaknesses before they escalate into a serious matter.
Your crisis strategy should also establish a framework for communication. When you’re in a crisis, you have to assume that people are approaching you from a hostile viewpoint. Once you’ve been accused of something, you’re on the defensive.
If that’s the case, the calculus has to change. You have to be much more cautious and careful about what you say moving forward. You have to approach every public gesture from a risk mitigation standpoint. That’s why it becomes so important to be extremely disciplined and focused on what you’re saying. By knowing those ground rules, you’ll be better able to create an effective strategic framework to help you communicate your message publicly.
Beyond that, no crisis strategy is complete without a media protocol. A media protocol controls the flow of information so that, externally, people know how they can talk to a representative of the company if they have questions or need information. At the same time, a media protocol is essential internally as well, because people in your organization need to know what’s expected of them.
Everyone should know how to respond if a reporter calls on the phone, or shows up in person and starts firing away with questions. If not, then the company is at risk.
Establishing a Crisis Response Team
A crisis response team is a must for any organization, and it begins with a spokesperson—someone who’s unafraid to face the cameras, and can think on their feet. Above all, your spokesperson has to be someone who’s willing to put themselves on the line for your organization.
In some cases, that could be a top executive; it could even be your CEO. But you have to factor in their principal duties first, and decide on whether these senior executives could serve a dual role. If not, designating a separate spokesperson could make more sense.
In addition to that essential role, you need to assemble a crisis response team in advance. You need to determine the key departments that need to be represented, as well as the key executives who need to take part. Another crucial item to have is a contact roster that’s constantly updated with all the ways your crisis response team can be reached.
You also need to have a business continuity plan in place. Every company must ask itself this question: do you have the infrastructure in place to continue your business operations in the event of a crisis? If you are not sure how your associates will be able to continue doing their jobs, or interacting with your key customers, you run the risk of losing your enterprise.
At Red Banyan, the first thing we do when we’re working with anyone in crisis is to focus on their core message. You need to decide on what your basic premise should be, clearly articulate the points you want to get across, and never waver from it.
Saying different things to different audiences only creates confusion. Instead, you should prepare a single-minded statement that expresses your view across all media platforms. Whether you’re drafting a press release, creating a video for your website, or writing a letter to the editor, you need to draw your response from the same well.
Of course, these days, your core message should also be echoed in the social media posts that you’re putting out there. When you engage with reporters for an interview, those same talking points have to be embedded in every answer you give. While you can make minor variations to keep the language fresh, it is never wise to go off-script.
Voicing the same few words over and over again may seem like overkill, but remember your objective: you want your messaging to be pervasive and omnipresent. That way, the validity of your message is constantly being reinforced, because it is being projected from all media outlets.
While you need to send a consistent message to the outside world, the same approach should guide your internal communications. Making sure your POV is locked down internally among all employees not only creates solidarity, it gives them a storyline to share with family, friends and others who will undoubtedly have questions about the crisis as it unfolds.
Key stakeholders—including investors, business associates, and important clients or customers—should also be informed of how you intend to confront the crisis as early as possible, and preferably before any statement is released to the media. That way, you can recruit them to be advocates to your cause. These third-party voices are critical to establishing and maintaining your credibility.
Debriefing and Learning from the Crisis
In the aftermath of a crisis situation, it is best to take a page from the playbook used by the military, and run an after-action report. Used by all service branches after a battlefield exercise or engagement, it details the conditions leading up to a confrontation, as well as the actions that follow.
By analyzing how orders were given and carried out, an after-action report provides an accurate measure of the effectiveness of decision-making and deployment. Likewise, when you take a deep dive into the circumstances that brought about your crisis, and how you addressed it, you will have an invaluable record of how to best respond to a similar event.
There’s another reason why a debrief of this sort is so essential. By helping you detect the warning signs of a looming crisis, it can even help you stave off the next one completely.
Red Banyan’s Crisis PR and Training Services
Most companies are ill-equipped to handle a crisis. But given how the odds against you can rapidly escalate when enmeshed in a crisis, you can’t wage a battle for your reputation alone or unprepared and expect to prevail.
That’s where we come in. For more information about our crisis management course curriculum, contact Red Banyan today. We can help you or your associates achieve crisis management certification, and be prepared to confront any crisis situation with confidence.