Is your business prepared to respond to a crisis?
By Keryn McKinnon, Agency Director
If we listen to the experts, it’s a matter of if, and not when.
If the past few months have proved nothing else to Australian businesses, the need for crisis preparedness has never been greater. The increasing prevalence of cyber and ransomware attacks should have put every member of the C-suite, board director, business owner, manager and shareholder on notice to dust off their crisis management plans and ensure it is up to date.
A critical component of these plans is, of course, crisis communications. How a crisis is communicated publicly, with employees, customers, partners, sponsors and stakeholders can be the difference between emerging from an incident with a reputation intact or in tatters.
Recent high profile cyberattacks should have prompted every business to consider its readiness to deal with critical incidents – from fire and floods, workplace deaths and bomb threats to data hacks.
There are five reasons organisations fail in effective communications during a crisis:
1. Not being prepared.
Not being prepared for a crisis is like going to the beach in summer without sunscreen. Large or small, every business should have a crisis communications plan. In the confusion, anxiety and stress of a critical incident it is easy to forget who you need to talk to. A crisis communications plan will guide managers through a step-by-step process, helping to develop key messages and holding statements in the event of customer and media inquiries.
A good crisis communications plan will identify an organisation’s stakeholders, including critical contacts who need to be kept abreast of developments regularly. It will provide businesses with templates for media statements, email addresses and phone numbers of media outlets and call logs for reception staff.
Crisis communications failures often occur when key staff are on annual leave or the crisis takes place outside ‘business hours’. A crisis communications plan will provide those staff who are working with a toolkit to guide them through the process.
2. Lack of honesty and transparency
Trying to hide, or hide behind excuses, simply will not work. The only way to address a crisis and retain stakeholder advocacy and support is to be open and frank about the incident, the response and the fix. End of story.
3. Delayed response
Keeping your fingers crossed that no-one will find out, will not work either. In the age of instant communication, nothing remains secret or behind closed doors. Good crisis communications requires being on the front foot, controlling the narrative and reassuring stakeholders and the community that your organisation is responding effectively to the challenge it faces.
4. Not keeping stakeholders updated
As a crisis evolves, so too should the communications. They do not start and finish with one media conference or email. Stakeholders should be regularly updated and feel that they are being brought along on the journey as the business responds to the incident and returns to business as usual. In the absence of clear and regular information, people speculate.
5. It never hurts to say thank you
When all is said and done, the support and understanding of your staff and customers is critical to keeping the doors open. Let them know you appreciate them.