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Expect the unexpected: Nine ways to prepare and respond to a crisis

August 9, 2013

The onset of a crisis is never expected. This is, of course, part of what makes it a crisis in the first place. However, this does not give organizations an excuse to present unorganized and ineffective communication during times of high-stress and chaos. In fact, it is precisely during crisis situations that the communication skills and preparedness of an organization become overwhelmingly apparent to their audience.


With the inevitability of a crisis in mind, organizations and their corresponding public relations teams should keep the following tips in mind when preparing and responding to a crisis.


1. Make a public statement within one hour. In a crisis, it’s important that the public feels that the organization is present and reacting to the situation. The sooner the organization speaks out, the better. While the CEO does not need to be the first person to talk with the media, the organization’s leader should be visibly involved by the end of the first business day.


2. Personality affects performance. In some organizations, the CEO can be incredibly technically-minded and may have trouble speaking in ad-lib situations. Those providing the CEO with media training should understand the challenges different personalities present and be prepared to practice different techniques to make any CEO a good spokesperson.


3. Rambling adlibs never work. Crisis situations are an emotional time for all parties involved. Attempting to begin a news conference with an unplanned statement can result in unintentional errors. Instead, start each conference with a written, quotable statement that contains evident compassion for the affected persons and their families.


4. Practice. This tip may seem obvious, but after giving statements for years, some CEOs/spokespersons may feel that practice is a waste of their time. It’s not. Especially in a crisis situation. Insist that the spokesperson run through their statement at least once before going in front of the media.


5. Place compassion at the forefront. It’s easy to get caught up in the technical details and financial ramifications of a crisis. Take time to ensure that statements made exude compassion and grief for those who suffered losses during the crisis.


6. Keep your skills sharp. Every CEO or spokesperson should go through media training at least once a year. If you sense resistance, try switching the location and training activities. The more engaging a session, the more information participants are likely to take away.


7. Plan. This tip cannot be stressed enough. Every organization MUST have a crisis communication plan. It’s hard to find time to do this during good times, but you’ll be thanking yourself when a crisis hits.


8. Write news releases in advance. Pre-written news releases should be a major part of each organization’s crisis communication plan. Again, it may be hard to persuade yourself to get these done, but they will be lifesavers in a crisis.


9. Do a drill. Organizations are required to do fire and other safety drills multiple times a year. Add in a crisis communication drill next time around. The more you practice putting your plan in action, the more effectively and efficiently you’ll be able to execute it when the time comes.


Making time and convincing others of the importance of crisis communication can be difficult, but remember with a crisis it’s not “if,” it’s “when.”


This article was written in conjunction with the following sources: