Guest post by Beth Harte
I’ve always wanted to use that title for a post! It’s the title of one of my favorite books on crisis communications by Rene Henry. Rene was a member of the Philadelphia PRSA when I first met him and bought his book. Even though it’s 8-9 years old, “You’d better have a hose…” is chock full of case studies and examples of crisis situations that are still relevant today. Rene does a great job of illustrating how each situation could have been avoided or neutralized with something that seems so simple to us in the social media world today…communication.
Today it seems like minor or major crisis situations pop up in the papers and on the Internet all the time and when they do, they also automatically come under the scrutiny of every marketer, PR or social media person with a blog too. Needless to say, these situations can leave a company feeling unprepared, vulnerable and rattled at the very least. Even with all the great posts and articles available on crisis communications―including everything from engaging detractors to crisis communications 2.0―it seems that companies still struggle when it comes to dealing with a crisis.
It’s really important for all communicators to learn how to handle any type of crisis―whether it stems from the media (on- or off-line) or on-line detractors―because it helps provide the communicator with a level of confidence.
There are a lot of crisis communications trainers available that can help a company to develop a crisis team and plan, but be sure not to get stuck with a 3” ring binder stuffed with an in depth crisis plan that no one will ever read let alone know how to implement when the time comes.
Here are some simple, yet actionable steps that I was taught and implemented as crisis communications practitioner. These steps can be used for traditional media or social media crisis situations.
- Invite all departments that could be affected by a potential crisis to a meeting (marketing/PR, legal, manufacturing, IT, executives, etc.).
- Document each department’s crisis concerns then rank them from low to high in crisis level and low to high in level of potential.
- Make a color-coded table of the crisis situations (Red = high level crisis, high potential, Orange, high level crisis, medium potential, etc. Colors can vary.).
- Select the crisis team (typically one key person from each department).
- Select who will be the spokesperson/people during a crisis (a media trained spokesperson is ideal).
- Invite the crisis team to a meeting to review the table, agree on each situation and its level and potential.
- Develop a potential response for each situation (obviously until the situation occurs, you can’t have an exact & accurate response, but it helps to be prepared).
- Develop a business card size call tree for the crisis team. Make sure that there is one person who is the ONLY key contact for media (when it comes to blogger relations, you may have more than one person). It’s that person’s job to contact the rest of the tree and inform them of the crisis situation.
- Select a partner to work with the key contact to randomly test their crisis situation skills (ex: “Hi, this is Sue from the Daily Herald, word on the street is that your company will be having massive layoffs this week any comments?”). Or practice writing comments for potentially negative blog comments & posts.
- Takes notes on how the practice calls/comments were handled. Evaluate, repeat, practice even more.
Easy steps to crisis management, it’s impossible right? One might think so, but I’ve found that when potential crisis situations are actually ranked (from the potentially realistic to the potentially outlandish), discussed and strategized for it actually helps to curb corporate risk aversion. It also helps when there’s a crisis team in place that is all on the same page, practiced and confident. That said, these 10 steps assume that you are dealing with a team that understands public relations and is media trained. When it comes to actually speaking to your publics during a crisis, the key basics of being honest, forthright, etc. still hold.
During a crisis there isn’t time to look up the rules in the playbook and there surely isn’t time to get permission to implement the rules (by that time a company might have missed its opportunity to engage!). You only have time to get the hose, turn on the water and put out the fire!
What do you think? Could these 10 basic steps help move your crisis communications planning in the right direction or do you think you need something more complicated?
(Image courtesy nep.)
Beth Harte is the Principal of Harte Marketing & Communications, a speaker and an adjunct professor at Immaculata University. Beth blogs about marketing, communications and social media at her blog The Harte of Marketing, which is featured in AdAge’s Power 150, a globally recognized ranking of top media and marketing blogs. Beth also blogs for MarketingProfs Daily Fix blog and Search Engine Guide.