By Rebecca Munro
When it comes to crisis communication planning, more often than not I see organisations seeking expert advice after decisions have been made and, regrettably, reputations have already been damaged.
We so often talk about why it’s important for all organisations to have a crisis communication plan in place to refer to if that dreaded disaster catches you by surprise.
But what I’ve learnt is that having external assistance in the room as decisions are made can be a game changer in a crisis.
The CGM team was recently involved in a crisis where we, alongside other experts, were called in to be a part of the decision-making process.
The alternative, and usually the way it plays out, is for the communications team to be called in after the decisions have been made to simply communicate these decisions in a compassionate, transparent and meaningful way.
Sometimes, if the right decisions aren’t made, it doesn’t matter how much ‘spin’ you put on them in today’s world: the media, stakeholders and even staff will see right through it.
Major crises will likely have staff, customer, stakeholder, digital, governance, reputational and legal implications.
That is why it is imperative to have experts in each of these fields in the room when decisions are being made, such as lawyers, human resources experts and public relations specialists.
When it came to our team, we were able to provide advice, alongside a lawyer, on how to manage stakeholders, government, media and staff communications.
Take for example the backlash the AFL faced this year for covering up alleged sexual harassment, assault and bullying claims.
The AFL went down the path of sweeping the misconduct under the carpet, not a particularly good PR exercise in this day and age … ahem ‘read the room’.
I don’t know for sure what advice it received but perhaps if it had its communication experts in the room at the point of the decision making, it would have been warned that it’s now more important than ever to be accountable, open and transparent.
The media was quick to see through this and focused its coverage on the cover-up.
A true crisis can bring a gruelling level of external scrutiny and pressure, if an organisation manages it badly. Emotions run high and people often panic and forget logic and common sense. This can lead to rash, impulsive decisions that have long-lasting negative consequences.
Being the room meant my team could provide on-the-spot advice on the impact each decision would have from a communication standpoint.
It allowed for this organisation to discuss communication-based decisions and receive real time feedback on what consequences these decisions may have in terms of media, stakeholders and staff.
When it comes to handling a crisis, timing is everything and handling it effectively is just like putting out a fire. A slow response puts lives and livelihoods at risk as the fire grows and become more damaging within minutes. If you act quickly it’s easier to control.
Our team was informed of this crisis early and not only were we in the room to advise on the impacts of the organisation’s decisions, we were also there to inform and implement a fast and strategic approach to communicating with stakeholders, staff and the media.
The result of this was effective because the organisation had control of the narrative. It acted quickly and was able to make informed decisions with a number of external experts in the room.
This speed of informed decisions coupled with a proactive crisis communication plan to implement ensued well-executed communication and limited damage to the organisation’s reputation.
What an external PR company does in a crisis:
- Works with executive/management to obtain all the facts
- Works closely with internal or external legal teams
- Develops scenarios, messaging and advice
- Creates possible FAQs
- Provides media statements and internal communications
- Forms a 24-hour play-by-play communication plan, which includes risks and what to expect
- Advises the executive team or Board
- Implements the external and internal communications
- Provides media training
- Manages media and social media depending on internal capabilities