Crisis management: How to solve a crisis under pressure

26.11.15

Media HQ‘s guest blog miniseries delves into the world of PR and communications as seen through the eyes of PR professionals. This week’s guest blogger is PSG Plus Senior Account Manager Dan O’Neill.

The word crisis originates from the Greek word ‘krisis’ – which means ‘decisive moment’. Invariably this ‘decisive moment’ will result in some form of change therefore how you manage your crisis is absolutely critical.

The first thing I would say is that crises are not easy but they are a reality of life. This is a point we continuously stress to organisations we work with. They inevitably happen suddenly at times of acute pressure.

There are however key decisions and processes you can take to minimise potential damage.

Firstly, preparation which sounds so straightforward but you would be amazed by the amount of organisations that don’t have a crisis management plan in place when the need for one is so apparent.

The key preparation steps comprise of the following:

Preparation:

  •  Conduct an intense analysis of all potential worst case scenarios.
  •  Identify the key people who are going to form your crisis team.
  • Draft all necessary documentation from statements to Q&A documents to website material.
  • Draft your overall crisis plan.
  • Media train key people on the crisis team.
  • Road test the crisis plan through a series of simulated crisis situations.

My own view is that all organisations should be equipped with a crisis plan. However, not every company sees the need to have a crisis plan in place and this leaves you in the position of managing a crisis after it has actually broke.

In this instance, in a pressurised environment, cool heads are necessary but speed and accuracy are also paramount. The better prepared you are, the better able you will be to handle the intense white heat and pressure of a crisis.

Crisis Time:

When a crisis breaks these are the key steps you need to follow to best deal with the situation:

  • Assemble and convene the crisis management team.
  • Thoroughly analyse the situation at hand.
  • Agree messaging and positioning and draft the required responses and other supporting documentation.
  • Identify clearly who you need to communicate with considering all stakeholders relevant to your organisation – At the very least this should include staff and media, but always think, who am I forgetting?
  • Consider other aspects such as specific social media and website content and a landing page where people can be directed to or a dedicated crisis call centre to handle public queries.
  • Communicate with stakeholders quickly, frequently and accurately and actively respond to queries.
  • Update your positioning consistently as the crisis develops.

When a crisis breaks suddenly, naturally you will find yourself on the back foot and behaving in a reactive manner. This is when the pressure comes on.

If however you have the right advice at hand and a strong team in place your position will quickly shift to a proactive stance where you are managing the crisis, controlling the flow of information and taking that deep breath that eases the intense pressure.

The significance of being on the front foot from the word go cannot be underestimated particularly when communicating proactively with stakeholders especially media in helping them cover the story.

When posed with the prospect of media queries, the initial instinct can be to clam up and say nothing. The downside here is that in the early moments of a crisis there is a high media appetite for facts and your silence creates a vacuum which inaccurate voices may fill.

Consider the question; Why shouldn’t you, armed with the correct information, establish yourself as the primary source for the issue?

At this point of the crisis, the pressure is still very much on and it is crucial to be completely abreast of all information in the public domain. Facts needs to be gathered and verified. Ensure you are cross examining media coverage as you may need to rebut misquotes or misstatements.

Post Crisis:

Once you are out of the eye of the storm so to speak and the crisis has passed, continuous follow up and review is important.

  • Lines of communication with stakeholders need to remain open and stakeholders need to see what change has come about, what you have done to rectify the situation and what you have done to ensure it never happens again.
  • A review should also assess the effectiveness of your crisis plan, how your crisis team performed and whether stakeholders were satisfied with the quality of communication.
  • If your review shows that a systems failure occurred. You must show how it won’t happen again.

The need for outside guidance in preparing for a crisis and in the event of a crisis is a decision for the specific organisation in question. There can be cases where certain high rank executives are simply too close to an issue and therefore a clean pair of eyes and appropriate level of experience is needed.

The reality is not everyone is suited to crisis situations. There is a specific skill in managing a crisis which involves tempering your gut instinct and reaction and having the clarity of mind to see the right path ahead. Road testing and the preparation stage should enable you to choose those who are best suited.

Of course, there are certain things even the slickest crisis management experts cannot help you with such as cases of institutionalized corruption, rotten corporate culture, cover ups and lies.

Overall, it’s important to remember that a crisis is an opportunity for an organisation to enhance its reputation through its proactive and honest handling of an issue. Similarly, mishandling a crisis, mistruths and lack of clarity can severely damage a company’s reputation and can take years to repair.

The public and stakeholders can forgive and forget if a company acknowledges a mistake or wrongdoing however it takes a long time to regain a severe loss of trust.

Benjamin Franklin is famous for saying, “It takes many good deeds to build a reputation and only one bad one to lose it.”

Taking the necessary steps to arm your organisation in preparation for a crisis can prevent Mr. Franklin’s words from becoming a reality.

Dan O’Neill is a Senior Account Manager with PSG Plus who specialise in Crisis and Issues Management, Media Training and wider corporate communications.