A lot has happened in the world since March 2020, and it’s been a busy twelve months for our crisis communications experts at MAPR. From our vantage point, crisis communications have taken on a more expansive meaning than it did a year ago.
Gone are the days when a singular incident inside a company warranted its own crisis communications effort. Crises by nature are unpredictable, and will happen whether you’re ready or not. What makes a crisis an actual “crisis” is how and to what degree your stakeholders are impacted and motivated to speak out. Now, we frequently have to contend with layers that were inconceivable a short time ago: pandemic protocols and lockdowns, racial and social justice, cultural upheaval and virtual everything are just a few of the vectors that companies must now also consider in their messaging.
In other words, not every incident is a crisis, but can quickly become one if not handled appropriately — and early. And once a crisis starts to snowball, it can be difficult to corral without sustaining serious reputational harm or fallout.
If you’re reading this now, the odds are high that you don’t exactly have a functioning crisis communications plan in place, and are looking for quick answers. Not to worry! Here are four questions to ask at the outset of a crisis that can help you get a functioning crisis plan in place.
Question 1: What’s happening?
In a crisis, the first casualty can oftentimes be the facts. Can you quantify or qualify the damage done (or likely to happen)? Are you monitoring social media chatter or other platforms that give you insights into the damage? If you know the relative scope, frequency and potential risk to your company, that will help determine the strategy you want to employ.
Question 2: Who are the core decision makers?
Creating a clear decision-maker protocol for crisis communications is the fastest way to create order in an otherwise chaotic environment. This is usually the CEO, general counsel and head of marketing/communications. Find out who your decision-makers are, formally appoint them as such, and make sure that’s known to every important stakeholder during the crisis that final decisions on statements and strategy rest with them.
Question 3: Whose input do you require, and why?
When it comes to who decides what should be included in any external statement, we take the view that crisis communications can be an inclusive process — but not a democratic one. Knowing the right person to provide the inputs to make statements factual is absolutely critical (we’ve seen this blow up badly when initial statements turn out later to not be true). While each case is different, it will be important to determine whose views can help inform your responses.
Question 4: What are the core functions entrusted to your focal point?
See what I did there? This question is a two-parter. First, it’s important to know who your focal point is for all crisis communications. In some cases, it’s the CEO, and in other cases it can be the head of PR and marketing. Either way, pick a lane and make sure everyone knows who is coordinating the process. Once you know the focal point, be sure to set the guardrails for this person’s role: are they authorized to speak to the media? Are they the keeper of the latest draft statement? Will they create the distribution plan for the media and on social channels and a blog?
Remember: crises happen. The entire point of a crisis communications plan is to set clear guardrails around what information gets shared, when and by whom. By answering these simple questions, you’re already taking a big step forward in potentially limiting or lessening the damage to your brand.
If your company has a crisis and would benefit from a quick conversation with a member of our senior team, let us know!