Preparation is key to communicating in a crisis

As the world faces a crisis the likes of which we’ve never had to encounter on this scale, we are reminded yet again of the importance of good communication at times like these.

Good communication doesn’t just happen

It takes planning and preparation, rehearsal and refinement – well in advance of the crisis hitting – because the hunger for information will always be immense.

So, what are some of the lessons about crisis communication that we learn every time?

The old adage that failing to prepare is preparing to fail is never truer than when a crisis is threatening your organisation.

It is essential that the thinking, the preparation and the documentation has been done in advance because you will simply not have the time when the crisis hits.

You need to make sure you have prepared a crisis communication plan that clearly identifies who does what and who says what to whom, where and when.

You need to have done some scenario planning to identify the types of crises that could impact your organisation.

One of the first failings that organisations make is failing to acknowledge that they are actually in a crisis. Burying your head in the sand and hunkering down, hoping that you can ride out the increased attention and scrutiny is not an option. The crisis stone will simply gather more moss and grow in intensity.

With adequate pre-planning, you will be able to recognise the signs, act fast when it most counts and start to communicate as quickly as possible. If you leave a communication vacuum, someone else will fill it – with information that is likely to be far from accurate.

You will also need to start communicating before you have all of the information to hand. As we’ve witnessed in the last few weeks, crises evolve and information changes. You can’t afford to wait for all the answers before you start the communication. Your plan will help prepare you to communicate frequently, regularly, consistently and incrementally.

It must also consider how you will monitor and quickly correct inaccurate information about your crisis.

Today’s social media dominated world provides everyone with the ability to publish a view or an opinion, whether it is factual or not.

You cannot let inaccurate information pass unchecked.

You need to plan how you will monitor social and traditional media so that you can quickly pick up and correct inaccurate information before it gains widespread currency. Correcting it after it has become lore in the ‘Twittersphere’ will be time-consuming and difficult to achieve.

But perhaps the most important aspect of your plan is a commitment to authentic and truthful communication. Never try to put a positive spin on the situation. If ever there was a time for authentic and truthful communication, a crisis is that time.

Your organisation’s reputation will be much better protected if you are truthful and up-front than if you obfuscate and try to spin your way out of it.

Your stakeholders want the facts about what has happened and what you are doing to recover from it. They don’t want weasel words and puff.

So, in short, if you fail to plan ahead about when, how and what to communicate in the event of a crisis for your organisation, you will be planning to fail when your reputation is most at risk.

Written by Andrew Birks

Andrew is an expert in crisis communication, with an extensive background in communication, strategy and performance. Working in organisations including Ambulance Victoria, the City of Boroondara, Department of Environment and Primary Industries, Deakin University, VicUrban, Tatts Group and QANTAS.


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