Nobody ever looks forward to a crisis, but by definition they happen. Institutions should know that there are steps that should be taken in an effort to prepare for communications that will be imperative, and could mean the difference between losing all brand equity earned over many years and putting the organization on solid enough footing to recover and possibly grow.
Preparation starts with being proactive with internal and external stakeholders, especially the media, building relationships when times are calm, and making time to plan for the possible. Taking these steps before a crisis occurs is tremendously important. The work you do to prepare can be just as important as the work you do during a crisis.
Establishing a plan and protocol for internal purposes is a necessary first step. It is a way to assess vulnerabilities and more precisely understand what the most efficient channels of communications are to reach your target audience. Additionally, ensuring that the appropriate parties are trained to respond to inquiries and prepared for media interviews is an essential part of the preparation process.
Preparation also means promoting your organization and the great work taking place on a regular basis, so your community knows who you are and what you do – you don’t want your first high-profile media story to be a negative one. Establishing relationships with key audiences within your community, the media, and in government if applicable, will help protect you. You can gain support and a level of understanding within your audience should things ever take a negative turn. In times of crisis, be deliberate in maintaining those relationships and communicating with stakeholders as you gather the appropriate information. Often, consideration and respect paid to the external parties and stakeholders can go a long way.
Taking a step back from – and outside of – the situation will help you to examine it with a more neutral perspective and see your organization’s response from the public’s perspective. That’s why external communications experts can become invaluable not only in preparing for a crisis, but in helping to respond to one as well. Unconstrained by allegiances, history, organizational bureaucracy and other internal factors, it’s easier for an outside consultant to call out weaknesses and potential pitfalls, while also highlighting strengths and opportunities.
While your organization may be focused with one issue, the public may be concerned with another and at the end of the day, your reputation is in the hands of the public. They will decide what is important and the media guides the public discourse.