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Crisis Communications

Crises have many causes: Natural catastrophes and accidents usually happen unpredictably and are not anyone’s fault. Criminality, strikes, product recalls or attacks from hackers are often caused by a lack of preventive measures, if not sheer misconduct. Sometimes, awkward statements or dispersed half-truths are enough to cause a crisis and get the company in hot water. In this case, crises can quickly bring about massive damage for a single person, the management, or an entire company. And poor crisis management or false crisis communication can not only damage one’s reputation but destroy it permanently. Therefore, acute situations in particular call for experienced crisis communication professionals who know what to do and what to say. In the times of 24-7 communication channels, especially social media, time has become a central factor. We are available round the clock to companies in crisis as a sparring partner, and if needed for the short term, as a spokesperson.

Five Topics in Using Change Communications

The greatest communications error occurs during times of chaos: No one has their eye on the overall situation: persons important for limiting the damage are forgotten, media questions remain unanswered, and vague rumours are often spread. A comprehensive crisis plan is needed which indicates who is to be notified in case of emergencies, gives instructions for appropriate behaviour, and above all, defines the correct measures toward the media and other essential publicity groups. Those responsible for communication must rank high on the “Emergency List”, for they are the most important link between the internal and the external and coordinate the communication process.

Whoever discusses problem situations and prepares for them when times are good has gained valuable experiences they can use during times of emergency. In any case, a good PR crisis plan should contain the answers to the following questions:

  • Who is responsible for what in our publicity work? Who will appear before the media? Who will inform the employees? Who will inform other important parts of the public sector, such as authorities, shareholders, banks, business partners, suppliers, etc.?
  • How will this information be passed on (telephone, e-mail, social media, posters, flyers, circulars, etc.)?
  • Which persons make up the crisis team? Who makes up the “crisis task force”, and how and where can it be reached?
  • Where are necessary contact data available in their entirety?
  • Which basic information may and should be communicated in emergencies (firm data, responsible bodies, key figures, etc.)?
  • Where do possible starting points for crises lie (hazardous products, delicate procedures, operational secrets, endangered product lines, etc.)?
  • How should we react in which situations (studying case examples, role-playing, etc.)?
  • Which resources are available for use in crisis situations (communication connections, replacement products, etc.)?

Implementing “crisis workshops” at regular intervals has proven effective in preparing for possible emergencies. ROSAM.GRÜNBERGER | Change Communications supports their clients in the conception, organisation, moderation, implementation and follow-up work for these workshops.

During national catastrophes, ostentatious gestures and two essential messages should be given to the public immediately, or at least within a few hours:

1. All those in authority feel affected by this and responsible for it (refrain from assigning blame). The company management is personally handling this situation.
2. Top management has made the necessary decisions for a solution. They are responsible for the necessary investigations and measures to be taken.

With these messages, those in charge also remain central sources of information for the media. CEOs or top-level company representatives should also consider travelling to the accident site immediately.

The first few hours are crucial. All crises have a “window of opportunity” lasting from 45 minutes to 24 hours in which to take charge of the situation. The media feel obligated to provide information, and therefore wish to be updated immediately and completely. The way in which one should react must be practised, for it does not resemble any typical response pattern for the most part. You must listen and respond immediately even if you have no verified facts. For it must be emphasised that all information is only temporary. Reference can be made to a press conference at a later time. Possible complications and risks must be indicated and cannot be downplayed. Advice on how to protect against potential points of danger can also be expounded upon. This may make for greater headlines at first, but in the long run it’s better to sound the alarm initially, then gradually give an all-clear signal. For whoever goes on the defensive at the beginning and postpones critical reports will have to endure this difficult phase for much longer.

If an institution is confronted with public relations problems, it naturally needs professional crisis PR. Especially if it has done no conceptual publicity work up to that point. However, it’s better to invest in efficient public relations up front. For trust and credibility from crucial dialogue groups are an important foundation for withstanding long-term image loss. This is totally comparable to the personal sphere: If you maintain contacts and invest in relationships, friends and inner circles stick by you through difficult times and emergencies. Therefore: continuous and sustained PR work is a kind of crisis insurance. It can’t undo what has happened, but it can help to avert the situation or at least minimize it.