A crisis can come in many forms, for example arising from customer disputes, social media attacks and sensitive announcements. These scenarios pose challenges even for the most experienced communications professionals who are tasked with resolving issues whilst keeping the media disruption to a minimum. Here are the top tips on how to handle crisis communications from Nottingham PR agency The Tonic Communications.
On many occasions you know a crisis is due to hit, so ensure you are effectively prepared for it. If you don’t know the full story, get to know it! Take a full brief on what happened and why. Next, pen a statement so you can define your position and have ready to circulate to media or stakeholders, when appropriate.
If the crisis is unexpected and the first you hear of it is through a media enquiry or social media post, then get that side of the story first. Ask the media what angle they are going to take, what evidence they have and the timings they are working to. Handle the situation in a professional manner and don’t be persuaded to answer their queries over a call or email.
If dealing with a customer complaint via social media immediately respond to the post and ask to take the query offline. Remember not to remove their comment; respond saying you will resolve the situation and will be in touch. This shows your other social fans and followers that you are responsible and that customer service is your main concern.
Don’t say ‘no comment’. These two words may seem like a simple solution at the time, but they are often not the best course of action. Giving a comment allows for your side of the story to be put forward, while explaining how the issue will be resolved.
Create a statement which is fit-for-purpose. You don’t need War and Peace; keep to the facts, be honest and try and put the situation in a fair light. Lead with how the problem is being resolved and an overview of the backstory, to illustrate how this, out-of-the-ordinary situation, arose in the first place.
Have an internal communications plan. Staff need to be briefed on how to respond when asked a specific question about this incident and who they need to direct media enquiries to. Most critically, they should know not to give their own opinion, particularly a negative one which will put the company in a bad light.
Prepare your spokespeople. Generally, in these circumstances an ambassador from your company may be asked to give live comment, be it with the broadcast media or with a newspaper reporter. Ensure that the person undertaking the interview has the full facts of the story and has been prepped on the background of the media and reporter. In advance, also ask the media if they can provide sample questions for the interview, so that answers can be developed. Have short, succinct key messages to hand, for your spokespeople to use to guide interviews.
The perfect ending
If you have promised a statement or an interview with a journalist by a certain date or time, then ensure that you get it to them in that time. If you work within their parameters they are certainly likely to be fairer with you and you could potentially forge a relationship with them for future news stories which are more favourable to your brand.
Learn an important lesson and don’t do it again! The media doesn’t take lightly to businesses who are repeat offenders when it comes to crisis communications. Learn from the error and put sufficient preventative steps in place.
The Tonic Communications is a national, boutique PR and marketing agency, with offices in Nottingham and Newcastle