We live and work in an interconnected world. News from across the globe and across the street hits our screens in seconds with a big impact on our day and perspective. In such a globalized community, it’s more important than ever for comms professionals to be prepared to respond to a crisis — and more challenging.
A crisis protocol has always been standard for corporate communications, but it’s become harder to determine what constitutes a crisis in the first place. There’s no easy answer to the question of what makes a crisis, but there are four key steps communications executives can take to stay ready for anything. Organizations that follow them can identify crises early and respond quickly.
Step 1: Develop a protocol.
Before you can determine whether the crisis in the news is a crisis for your organization, you need to know what to do if it is.
Take the war in Ukraine. If you’re the comms lead at a New York-based digital marketing organization, Eastern European geopolitics may not seem like your kind of crisis. But do you have Ukrainian employees waiting for an acknowledgment? Do any of your clients have a business interest in the region? Does your brand mission and values relate in any way? Finding these answers can take time, especially for large teams, and time is of the essence in a crisis. If you waste time trying to figure out how to actually formulate and deploy a response, you’ll already be too late.
Effective crisis comms are fast, firm, and flexible. You’ll need tools that are sophisticated and agile enough to support that. A digital experience platform with omni-channel capabilities can give you the requisite tools to respond effectively, from a central content hub for your company messaging to push notifications that go straight to your employees’ phones.
A solid protocol will plan for internal campaigns, external statements, and responses delivered from any spokesperson. With the right technology in place, you’ll be able to execute your crisis protocol seamlessly, regardless of the particulars. After all, when you stay ready, you don’t have to get ready.
Step 2: Dig into the details.
Once your protocol is locked and loaded, you’re ready to look at situational specifics. Let’s say you're the CCO of a SaaS company and you’ve just read about the overturning of Roe v. Wade. You feel compelled to address the elephant taking up every room in the U.S, but you’re not sure if it’s wise.
Start by taking a step back. Before you can respond (or not), you have to understand what happened.
Regardless of the nature of your organization or the news event, ask yourself the following questions before making any decisions:
- - What are the facts of the situation?
- - Who is affected, and how?
- - How does this affect the people at my organization?
- - How does this affect our customers?
- - How does this relate to our business offering?
The answers might not be simple, but they’ll lay out all the factors.
Step 3: Establish a framework.
Once you’ve sorted through the facts, you need to figure out what they mean for your organization. The answers to the questions in step 2 should help you answer the big one: Is it a crisis?
Your organization’s threshold for what constitutes a crisis depends on a range of variables, from industry and employee demographics to the unique values of your business. Establish a framework for which combinations of answers to the questions in step 2 correspond to your organization’s definition of a crisis.
An effective framework will consider the following:
- - Is acknowledgment of outside news events that affect our employees important to maintaining our company culture?
- - Are external stakeholder relations critical to our company culture?
- - Would a response (or lack thereof) represent a financial risk?
Step 4: Take a stance.
If you decide to respond, take note: public patience for bungled statements is limited. Today’s consumers are more mindful of corporate social responsibility, and that includes your employees. Saying the wrong thing may do more reputational damage than saying nothing. So don’t try to sit on the fence. Say something thoughtful and honest, and go through the proper crisis infrastructure to get your message across with ease.