Combating Crisis – Why Response Protocols Must Be Put In Place

Crisis management is one of the major services that Public Relations consultancies can offer to companies and entities. A crisis can erode at the public perception of a firm or person and transform a positive image into a negative one. They could come in the form of anything – a technical breakdown, quality control failure, unsatisfactory customer experiences or reports of unethical practices. In order to combat potential crises effectively, it is necessary to plan and establish response protocols. Here’s why:

To appear to be in charge of the crisis:

The way a firm or entity responds to crises can make or break their ability to bounce back after one. Crisis communication needs to be given due care and diligence. How you respond and what you respond is often the only thing that is actually remembered in the long run. Hence, you should have a strong crisis communication strategy in place. Your communication needs to convey empathy and honesty, detail a plan of action and put the crisis in the context of the larger industry. At the same time, it is necessary that all communication presents a cohesive front. When you have your response protocols in place, you can ensure that there are strict guidelines to be followed when there is a crisis. For example, you can stipulate that all formal and media communication is only sent out after careful deliberation and vetting by you, that employees and other stakeholders are sent out missives the moment a crisis hits detailing the firm’s official stand, etc. When a proper order of things to be done during a crisis is set, it greatly offsets the panic that the crisis brings with it. Everyone knows what to do and the firm or entity can appear to be in charge of the crisis in the public eye.

To actually be in charge of the crisis:

While appearing to be in charge is always essential, the need of the hour during a crisis is of course to actually be in charge of it. Crises need to be controlled in the best way possible, and as a PR consultancy, you need to be the one in control. Having response protocols in place allows you to do just that. Protocols are basically plans of action and when everyone is aware of what they should be doing in an emergency, you remove the risk of thoughtless words and actions. Your crisis communication plan isn’t so much about ‘what you say’ – this will differ from crisis to crisis anyway – but about how it is said, who is contacted, when it should be said. In our internet-driven age in fact, response protocols help immeasurably. Let’s say for example that you represent a chain of hotels and a customer leaves a bad review of one particular establishment. In fact, being zealous in their unhappiness, they’ve left bad reviews on a number of different review sites. The first human impulse is to forgo all crisis communication training, defend the hotel, make justifications about why the service or amenities were found to be lacking. But if your response protocol demands that you first speak to the manager of the establishment, get to the root of the problem, collect details about that guest’s stay and only then respond, your message tone and content automatically becomes more mature and informed. In fact, you may even be able to solve the problem completely. You will also know exactly what you can offer as compensation in advance. Your entire approach to the crisis can now be cool and collected, instead of impulsive and personal.

Hero Of The Hour – How To Effectively Manage The Reputation Of A Firm In Crisis

So the worst has happened. The firm whose reputation you manage has befallen a crisis. This is a trying time and how you handle it can save the firm’s reputation or malign it even further. Public perception is at its most critical and every step you take must be carefully thought out. Instead of seeing it as a challenge, look at it as an opportunity to create an even better public image of the firm you manage, to be the hero of the hour.

Here are some things to keep in mind when you’re managing the reputation of a firm in crisis:

Gather All The Facts:

The very firsts thing you must do as part of the crisis communication services you provide is to understand the issue that arose. Why did it happen? What were the factors that led to the crisis? You need to have as much information as possible. This will enable you to analyse the crisis and craft an effective public relations strategy. Do not take anything at simple face value, find out the background story. It may be tremendously tempting to respond to the crisis right away, but it is vital that you are completely aware of all the aspects of a crisis first. It becomes very easy to make assumptions, but to keep a cool head is the only way to understand an issue fully and identify the root of the problem.

Communicate Conservatively:

Just because you know all the details of the crisis, does not mean that they need to be shared with the whole world. Judge which facts need to be presented. Keep all communication relevant and remember that the more you share, the more is left put in the open for criticism. Keep any messages to the public short and to the point. Address the issue, render appropriate apologies, clarify what needs to clarified, but do not make your message to the public a platform for publicity. Let the firm’s corrective actions speak for it.

Assume Responsibility:

Sure, putting a positive spin on a story is part of crisis communication support. But you need to remember that a firm in crisis has lost a great amount of trust in the eyes of the public and stakeholders. What you should be aiming to do is build that trust again. Therefore, it is essential that the firm accepts any mistakes it has made and apologises. Do not try to justify the firm’s actions, be as honest and upfront about the issue as you can. Do not make excuses or assumptions about the situation. The blame game will only serve to further weaken the position of the firm. Assure the stakeholders that the firm is doing its very best to fix the problem. Share some of the corrective strategies planned if you feel it is appropriate.

Approach the crisis with maturity and a cool head and you will always be able to get out of the situation with the firm’s dignity intact, and be the ‘hero of the hour’.