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  • Posted By Scott
  • |
  • Sep 25, 2021

Communication with your Stakeholders During a Crisis:

There are many adages about planning, like “if you fail to plan, then you better plan to fail”, or “a goal without a plan is just a wish”. One saying that reminds us to be flexible in our Emergency Planning is from Dwight D Eisenhower: “In preparing for battle, I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable”.

It is obvious, but bears repeating, that: The time to plan is before an emergency takes place, not during.

A future article(s) will detail emergencies and some recommended planning steps, but this writing is about communication during a crisis, which should be planned in advance as well.

In Cooper's book “Crisis Communication in Canada”, he states that a crisis is formed when an organization experiences one of several issues. One of them is when the public opinion of their organization’s credibility is adversely affected in a critical way.

This is not to be confused with a one-star rating by a dissatisfied customer on a service website. Perhaps a simple way to identify when an organization is in a crisis, is when all the news being reported on that company revolves around a single (negative) narrative.

In examining examples from the past, we can look at the Tylenol issue in 1982 or the BP oil spill in 2010. These are often used to demonstrate things to do and not to do during a crisis. As you may note from the CEO of BP, during a crisis, if your communication plan is not well thought out (and if the speaker is under moments of extreme stress ), it is easy to blurt out the wrong thing at the wrong time and perhaps make an already terrible situation even worse.

Some experts have stated that there are 20 points to consider when drafting crisis communication, while others have simplified it to 7 points. No matter who you speak to, there is one common theme that seems to be apparent: Everyone is against “spinning” the story to portray it in a better light. This is a walk-back from previous communication policies, specifically those presented in owner's or town hall meetings for the purpose of damage control.

As an example, three other points to consider when drafting your communication policy include:

Ensure that the organization acknowledges the issue as soon as possible. Efforts to ignore the issue is often seen as management trying to sweep the issue under the carpet. Nature abhors a vacuum; if management is not providing any information, the public (RE social media) will provide it – and the lack of communication on the part of the business will be noted and condemned.

When communicating about a crisis, the company needs to build both trust and credibility within the public eye. When an organization tries to deny the issues or to discredit the person raising the issue, the end result is usually the company digging themselves deeper into a hole. By acknowledging the facts and responsibility of the issue, the company can turn the perception of the issue to one of solutions rather than one of blame and recriminations.

Have a simple message to the public that lists the solutions to the issue, and ensure that the message of the solutions is delivered by a person, preferably one of a senior manager from the organization.

As a recent case study, there is a condominium in Toronto that has undergone negative public scrutiny due to some videos that were posted on TiKTok in July 2021. These videos went viral and others started to share their negative experiences of the property through blogging and Twitter. A quick google search shows that half of the first 10 search results speak of the negative issues. Earlier this month, the condominium released a statement on their website that is accessible to the public and is also in the first 10 search results.

We would be interested in hearing any readers comments if:

(a) they feel that publicity like this constitutes a crisis to a condominium.

(b) If so, do they feel that the news release follows the guidelines of professional crisis communication?

The takeaway from this post would be for organizations to have a conversation, pre-crisis, on who is going to say what, when, and to who, should (when?) the company find themselves in crisis.