Few of us like to think about the unthinkable. That breath-halting moment when a critical part breaks or a human error sends a company or organization scrambling to save lives and protect staff and customers. While most companies have safety plans and emergency response plans of some form, many do not have crisis communications plans.
An online survey conducted by the Canadian Canadian Investor Relations Institute and Fleishman-Hillard Inc. recently discovered few companies have a crisis communications plan to manage an incident or issue that could destroy their reputations and obliterate their profits.
Why a crisis communications plan?
In a serious operational incident, you owe it to your employees, customers, shareholders and society to provide clear instructions about staying safe. You must discuss the steps you are taking to resolve the incident and the impacts on people, the environment and property.
If you don’t have a crisis communications plan that defines the steps to inform employees, stakeholders, media and the public, you could risk lives and you will certainly risk your hard-earned reputation and by extension your bottom line. The BP Gulf Oil spill is an obvious example of poor crisis communications planning and preparation that cost the company billions of dollars.
What should I say?
Think TECC. In a crisis, build your key messages around truth, empathy, context and clarity (TECC).
Truth – Leave “spinning” to political operatives. In a crisis, no matter how bad, the truth is the only option. You will worsen the situation if your try to lie or are disingenuous about the seriousness of a situation.
Empathy – If people are dead or injured, you have to express your deep concern for them and their families. If you’re human, this shouldn’t be a problem. Be composed, but a poker face will not endear you or your company to anyone.
Context – Let people know about the circumstances that influenced the crisis or facts that provide a broader picture of what happened.
Clarity – If your staff or the public need to do something, let them know as quickly as possible. And use simple, everyday language. Crisis situations are not the time to use jargon and excessive corporate speak in a vain attempt to appear smart or muddy the facts to control the damage.
Certainly, a crisis communications plan involves many elements that need to align with your emergency response planning and corporate policies. That’s why you need to start preparing yours today.