Quick: does your company have an integrated crisis communication plan ready to deploy?
As a poll conducted at the start revealed, many companies are operating without plans right now- and those who do have them, discovered their need the hard way. In a panel moderated by Chameleon’s Tom Berry, leaders and communications professionals discussed this question of how to generate such goodwill, as what to do when the crisis does hit close to home, and what can be done to prepare for such incidents in advance.
Calling a Crisis a Crisis
First, a clarification of terms, shared by CyLon’s communications director Miranda Ward: “both [types of disruption] are negative, but the latter halts your business operations and brings senior management to your side. Issues are lower grade, but could escalate at any time.”
An understanding of the two is essential in determining what resources to call upon when they strike, and also in anticipating who will need to be involved in the resolution. Preparation and relationship building are essential here; BT’s former head of external communications Dan Thomas pointed out, “it’s the ability now for things to go viral more quickly; this speed is changing the role of crisis communications.” Social media is only one part of these responses; preparation and relationship building can ensure that messaging is consistent from the social media manager all the way up to the organization’s CEO.
Direct AND Proximal Hits Count
Dataminr’s Jonathan Barrett provided some historical context for good and poor responses by recalling the aftermath of the 2000 Air France flight 4590 crash. Both Air France and British Airways counted Concordes among their fleet. The stark differences in CEO responses are highly instructive for brands today. Air France’s CEO apologized quickly, offered money to the families of victims, and attended all funerals. By comparison, British Airways stayed silent for weeks. The stock prices of both properties tumbled due to their proximity to the disaster, but Air France’s rebounded.
Knowing how to respond not just when a crisis affects you directly, but also when your organization is in the proximity of a crisis, will make all the difference when managing your image to consumers, competitors, and stakeholders.
Build Goodwill Before You Need It
When it comes to depending on the goodwill of consumers in times of crisis, those seeds must be planted well in advance. Ward emphasized the importance of interacting on social in an authentic and relational way regularly. Listening constantly, and then responding as much as possible, is hugely important. “Prioritize conversations, and not just shouting.”
This goodwill also extends to others in your organization. Ward recalled crisis simulations she presented where many key stakeholders were meeting for the first time. In the best and most effective cases, the relationships between all who would have to weigh in on a crisis response would already be in relatively constant contact. Thomas adds relationships with legal and litigation teams to the key ones needed in an emergency.
Barrett put it nicely: “we can all be evangelists or critics.” Brands who prioritize these conversations have ready-made evangelists, who know and understand the brand well enough to stay with them through missteps or challenges. These authentically curated relationships—both with our customers and with our colleagues—can often withstand what Barrett called “an age of soundbites and celebrity,” offering supplemental scaffolds against threats of scandal and fake news.
“[Scandal] can impact your business in a way it couldn’t before,” Thomas says. Given those stakes, it is crucial to develop the relationships, plans, and mindset to effectively manage them well before they arrive.
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