Imagine your company has experienced its biggest corporate crisis in years. An immediate blow to reputation, professionalism and financing, the long-term effects of disaster can be devastating, and may even spell the end for business.
In crisis situations, communications that recognise and address problems can minimise damage and resolve corporate nightmares, so should be a recovery priority. But remaining calm and communicative is easier said than done: there are many hurdles and actions which businesses must clear to redress the slip of disaster, rather than falling flat on their faces.
Hurdle 1: Remaining accessible and transparent. Clear communication should be an immediate damage limitations and recuperations response. So stating precisely what went wrong, accepting blame if relevant, heeding comments, and stating remedial procedures (enquiring, hiring and firing) is necessary for companies to remain accessible and approachable. It’s this honesty that reassures consumers, partners and staff, reaffirming their trust and loyalty, and re-establishing reputations. No matter the cause of the problem, or who/what’s to blame, communications must be transparent and above all clear. You don’t want to make matters worse by being misunderstood and causing further offence.
Hurdle 2: Acknowledging the problem and stating the remedy. Investigating exactly what went wrong/completing enquiries takes time, but communicative accessibility (as above) eases backlash. Clearly acknowledging the problem, admitting mistakes, accepting blame and apologising if necessary, in addition to stating reparations actions, proves professionalism. It is especially crucial in the case of legal or criminal crises. Treat all parties involved with respect and empathy, and when relevant, offer compensation to those eligible.
Hurdle 3: Knowing when to communicate, and what to say. The way a disaster’s handled depends on the nature of the problem. In most cases it’s wise to release a corporate statement/response addressing issues so the company account is on record. But knowing when not to communicate, containing information and judging when to respond to errors is just as important as honesty and accessibility. Before communicating at all, find out how much is known and what information should actually be broadcast. If nothing other than the basics are needed to quash rumour, simply repeat your statement of apology, explanation and resolve across multiple channels – it’s crucial it reaches your various audiences, and reaches them consistently.
Hurdle 4: Keeping PR (the media and the news) on-side. Especially linked to accessibility and transparency, media relations have the power to improve or worsen high profile corporate disasters. If well handled, positive media cooperation can help communicate official statements, circumvent hostility, and depending on the nature of the crisis may reaffirm reputations and professionalism in the public eye. To proactively communicate with the media, respond quickly, always give a statement to prevent speculation (refusal to speak can be additionally damaging), don’t release more information than you need, and don’t be afraid to give simple ‘yes/no’ answers. If possible, find third party allies to support your statements and your media messages.
Lastly, dealing with the communications breakdown of a corporate crisis – from handling publicity to responding to multi-channel backlash (social media may be your biggest hurdle yet) – will not be an easy task. But through maintaining honest connectivity from start to end (and notifying closure and thanks to all involved after resolution), recovery and prevention of future error can be achieved and communicated with minimal damage.
Alastair is a writer and business blogger. He wrote this article for Communicaid a culture and business communication skills consultancy, which offers business english courses as part of its services.