10 steps for effective crisis communications

Photo: Samuele Ghilardi

You’re the head of communications at a foundation. It’s 12 AM and your phone rings. You’re told that one of your foundation’s local grantees has been accused of corruption by a local newspaper. What do you do?

You could ignore it and hope it goes away, or dismiss the story given that the newspaper is not well known or has a bad reputation. But what if the story is picked up by more prominent media outlets like the BBC or CNN? You could put out a statement via all of your media channels staunchly and vigorously denying the accusations. But what if you’re making a mountain out of a mole hill?

How do you ensure that you respond appropriately to crises or potential crises? To answer this question, Jonathan Bernstein of Bernstein Crisis Management outlines 10 steps for crisis communications.

Why crisis communications? As Bernstein notes, in the absence of adequate internal and external crisis communications:

  • Operational responses will break down.
  • Stakeholders will not know what is happening and quickly become confused, angry, and negatively reactive.
  • The organization will be perceived as inept, at best, and criminally negligent, at worst.
  • The length of time required to bring full resolution to the issue will be extended, often dramatically.
  • The impact to the financial and reputational bottom line will be more severe.

The 10 crisis communications steps are:

Pre-crisis
1. Anticipate Crises
2. Identify Your Crisis Communications Team
3. Identify and Train Spokespersons
4. Spokesperson Training
5. Establish Notification and Monitoring Systems
6. Identify and Know Your Stakeholders
7. Develop Holding Statements

Post-crisis (or during the crisis)
8. Assess the Crisis Situation
9. Finalize and Adapt Key Messages
10. Post-Crisis Analysis

The extent to which you engage these steps will depend on the context that you are working in. Furthermore, Bernstein makes some important points on the importance of steps 1-7:

“Reacting without adequate information is a classic “shoot first and ask questions afterwards” situation in which you could be the primary victim … If you haven’t prepared in advance, your reaction will be delayed by the time it takes your in-house staff or quickly hired consultants to run through steps 1 to 7. Furthermore, a hastily created crisis communications strategy and team are never as efficient as those planned and rehearsed in advance.”

Read Bernstein’s full article here

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