Ensuring your organization's reputation during an emergency
As anyone who has observed the successful and failed crisis management practices reputations are won or lost in crises, and the most successful organizational communications plans are built with this principle in mind.
Having a crisis response plan in place is critical to weathering the unexpected, regardless of whether it is a service failure, unfounded rumor, economic downturn, or as in the case of the COVID-19 outbreak, a crisis that temporarily affects your patients, providers, and staff.
Leadership buy-in is key to crisis communications
When an emergency occurs, the need to communicate is immediate. Your communications team needs to have access to the people who have the accurate information needed to develop the messaging. This means having buy-in from company leadership to bring in the communications team as soon as possible.
Identify how and who will manage crisis communications
Knowing who you need to communicate with and how they will be impacted are the foundation of a crisis communication plan. Doing the analysis ahead of time of who your messengers are and what they need to know, and how to notify them and who they will communicate with, will organize your communications efforts during the crisis and minimize confusion and miscommunication.
Identifying the resources you will need to communicate ahead of time is also critical. This is more than maintaining current contact lists with name, address, phone and email addresses.
Make sure access to key contacts lists are easily accessible to the crisis communications team. Ensure team members are able to work remotely. During the current COVID-19 crisis many companies asked staff to work from home only to find out many employees were unable to VPN into the company network. Have clear instructions for network connectivity ready.
In the age of social media its also essential to have a list of the audiences you need to communicate with and what channels you need to cover to communicate with them. During the Target data breach incident, the company kept putting information on their website, only to find out their customers were looking for answers on social media, not their website.
Take time to think before you communicate
Once a crisis strikes, the instinct is to rush to communicate, but taking the time to first gather your communications team to analyze the situation is essential. Then, define the problems that need to be addressed and formulate the messages that need to be communicated for each of your key audiences. Take the time to empathize with your audience, this will prevent missteps or confusion.
Keep in mind the 3 C’s for effective communication
It is important that you formulate your messages tailored to the audience that needs to be informed. How the crisis affects employees is likely to be very different than how it affects your customers or suppliers. Giving each audience the necessary information they need to know, and the answers to the questions will keep messaging:
Then, with your audiences in mind make sure your messaging articulates the problem, identifies how it came about, and what steps are being taken to correct the situation. It is essential that messaging be genuine, honest, accurate, transparent and proactive. If the situation warrants, admit mistakes upfront.
Transparent communication is key to controlling the narrative
While that may seem impossible to do in certain situations, particularly when legal considerations are involved, experience has shown over and over that people are much more forgiving when companies own up to their mistakes, than they are when companies try to hide fault. The important thing to remember is that by being transparent you will allow you to control the narrative and in the long run repair your reputation.
Having a plan in place before a crisis strikes is the best way to deal with the communications needs of your organization during the crisis, and ensure that your institution's reputation is preserved.