Crisis communication: How to build Covid-19 proof communication strategy
The distance between a crisis and a manageable issue can be measured in five steps.
It is still impossible to quantify the impact that the COVID 19 pandemic will have the global economy over the next few months, but it is safe to assume that it will generally be bad news all round.
As levels of lockdown are slowly lifted, the businesses which survive will have to face new challenges as the world starts to define a reality fraught with uncertainty and risk aversion.
Some of these new challenges are impossible to predict, but a business must start to plan a comprehensive strategy that ensures that the infrastructure and resources are in place to help the company navigate through the next potential crisis.
The following five steps outline a strategy that any enterprise can implement to mitigate potential risk and help avoid a loss of competitive advantage, ensuring the least possible damage is done to the brand’s reputation and commercial operation.
1: Scenario planning
Start by asking yourself and your colleagues what their biggest fears and concerns are when it comes to your company and the wider industry. The next step is to categorise these scenarios in three levels according to likelihood and their potential impact on business. Look at issues that have affected similar business in your industry and evaluate how their response was interpreted by their clients, stakeholders, media and the public.
Crisis Level 1 is the highest alert and usually reserved for the loss of life or serious health implications that result in the significant reputational harm and/or cessation of business. Crisis Level 2 means lives are not under direct threat, but the reputation and smooth functioning of the business is likely to suffer as a direct consequence. Crisis Level 3 is less serious, usually relating to a temporary incident that is unfortunate and/or accidental in nature.
2: Assemble your crisis response team
A business should appoint a small internal response team that is responsible for all action and communication regarding a possible crisis. It is advisable to keep the team small as possible to avoids the delays that naturally occur when too many people need to be consulted before decisive action can be taken.
Ideally, the internal team will be supported by a Public Relations company, such as Positive Dialogue who are experienced in crisis communication and reputation management. Each team member must have a defined role and the entire team must be kept abreast of all new developments or media interest through constant communication.
3: Gather all information
In order to make informed decisions and to communicate effectively, one member of the crisis response team must be assigned to gather and store all information relating to the incident. This member must also keep an accurate event log of all unfolding details relating to the incident, and it must be made clear within the entire company that responding to queries from the crisis support staff for information in such scenario is an absolute priority. Only once all the available facts have been gathered and carefully reviewed can a decision be made on what should be communicated to the media, stakeholders, and staff.
4: Choose the most appropriate response
It is important to take a proactive approach to communicating with the media, staff and stakeholders. When a company delays responding to reasonable media queries, it creates a “Vacuum of News” which is inevitably filled with speculative or negative commentary.
Determine the primary and secondary audiences that need to be engaged with and anticipate their requirements, what their line of questioning is expected to be, and prepare appropriate responses according to the most effective communication platform.
5: Prepare collateral
Each specific crisis requires a specific response that speaks directly to your primary audiences which generally include your staff, your clients, your stakeholders, and the public. Ensure that you have prepared templates for internal staff communication, media holding statements and press releases, Interview Q&As and stakeholder communication. It maybe necessary to prepare a script guideline for the switchboard or reception so they can make the appropriate response if queried.
The objective of a crisis communication plan is to take a degree of ownership of the news so that the company can project an air of professionalism, control the messaging, and protect the reputation and goodwill of the brand.