Effective communications during a crisis one of the most critical duties of a Public Relations specialist. It is where the client is in urgent need of our expertise, as opposed to planned media relations and public relations activities.
What makes Crisis Communications critical is that a single mistake can quickly and irreversibly exacerbate the crisis instead of solving it.
Wikipedia defines Crisis Communication as
“a sub-specialty of the public relations profession that is designed to protect and defend an individual, company, or organization facing a public challenge to its reputation.”
There is a high price to pay for making communication mistakes during a highly visible crisis. When dealing with this kind of crisis, we are already in a situation where there is high media attention on the client. Social media being at the fingertips of both the press and consumers, there is no shortage to the plethora of voices that are ready to tweet their opinion.
Here is a list of the most common communication mistakes that could occur while handling a crisis.
1. Failing to plan for a crisis beforehand
Waiting for a crisis to go public before taking action will give the crisis a head start. PR specialists should be aware of possible complications of any action taken by the client, so they are prepared for any crisis that may arise.
2. Going mute
“Let your reputation speak for you” is the worst advise a client can get in crisis situation. Client’s reputation is maintained via proactive action, not by relying on past success.
3. Not offering adequate training to client’s spokespeople
We already have too many people to worry about what they could say, our client’s spokespeople should not be among them. Prepare your client, and prepare them well.
Ensure that the communication is consistent from all sources representing the company.
4. Failing to understand local culture
It is a general rule in our profession that we should speak in a language understandable by the target audience. This becomes more critical in crisis management. We need to be culturally aware, both in terms of actions and statements.
5. Treating the press as the enemy
In crisis situations, some press may become aggressive in search of juicy details. Making the press our enemy is a big no-no. We should try to calm them down and get them to be more reasonable in their coverage.
6. Failing to acknowledge feelings
It is very important to deal with feelings in crisis management, side by side with dealing with facts. Showing compassion and being close to the people, especially those affected by the crisis, is paramount.
7. Assuming the crisis is over when the media fuss cools down
By nature, a crisis sleeps, it does not die. We have to be ready for any future repercussions and be proactive in handling them.
Considering all that could go wrong, it is clear that a crisis calls for a structured and well-planned response. It is in our hands, as Public Relations professionals, to make sure this happens.
What other communication mistakes do public relations professionals make during a crisis that can be avoided?