Crises come in many forms. Some are self-inflicted: the doctor being forcibly removed from the United Airlines plane springs to mind. A crisis might be a bolt from the blue: perhaps a cyber-attack. Or social media trolls amplify a piece of misinformation and suddenly there’s a witch-hunt against your company. So is your business crisis ready?
Here’s what needs to happen.
Get the right people in the room
Convene the right people quickly either in a room or virtually and make sure there’s a tried and tested method that allows this to happen. This is the moment for the boss to get input from all in-house experts from senior executives, to legal and PR. Ideally there should be a plan or playbook to guide discussions but whether or not that’s the case a plan will have to be hammered out.
What are the facts and impacts?
Maybe social media starts to light up, or a member of staff reports a problem or perhaps journalists start to call in. Whatever it is, something is out of whack. This is the moment not just to establish the facts but also the impacts the crisis may have on your organisation. Ask the question: What does this mean for us?
The PR team will have to become internal investigative reporters, looking to find staff who have the requisite knowledge to help solve the problem. The C-suite are going to need plenty of good intel to come to the right decisions. All incoming information will need to be logged as will all the Actions and Decisions taken by the senior team.
When video emerged of a United Airline passenger being dragged from one of its planes their initial comms response was lamentable. Oscar Munoz the airline’s CEO apologised for having to ‘re-accommodate’ passengers and went on to label the victim ‘disruptive and belligerent’.
It took two days for Munoz to issue a full apology. On ABC’s Good Morning America he said: “I deeply apologise to the customer forcibly removed and to all the customers aboard. I promise you we will do better.” Why did it take two days to say something that could have been said in forty minutes?
A quick win in a crisis is to get out a brief holding statement to the effect that the company is aware of the problem and is dealing with it. Don’t allow PR teams to become bogged down in detail. Social media moves fast, PR teams need to keep up.
Talk to the troops
Don’t allow employees to get all their information from social media, which is inevitably toxic. Employees are critical to maintaining a company’s reputation—keep them in the loop as quickly as possible. There may be legal reasons why not all information can be shared; if that’s the case it’s best to be candid about it. Crises are inevitably stressful so make sure employees are looked after and receive TLC. If staff are ignored, they may turn against a company and start leaking to the press.
Third party advocates
It may be that you need to bring in people or organisations from outside your organisation to help fight the crisis. These may be individuals who can speak on your behalf or they may be crisis management consultants used to dealing with crises. Whether they are individuals or organisations it is essential they understand your business and don’t become a hindrance while getting up to speed on what you do or the crisis at hand.
It’s all about people
In a crisis people should be every CEOs priority; people who are affected by the crisis and those who will ultimately rescue the company from adversity. Bosses must be attentive to the ideas and feeling of their employees and indeed everyone who is caught up in the emergency. They need to supply sympathy and empathy combined with a willingness to take difficult decisions while providing the authority and direction sought by staff. Bosses must also exhibit optimism and confidence that a crisis can be overcome.