Why prepare for a crisis communication and how it is related to Inbound PR?
A good PR professional knows that a crisis well-managed is a crisis well-prepared. At the same time two types of crisis are occurring: the actual crisis and the communication crisis. If you don’t handle the communication crisis well, like a real professional, then you haven’t really solved the actual crisis.
What’s the main job of the PR professional? To keep the client’s reputation impeccable.
A good plan, a crisis plan, is a plan with steps. The Inbound PR campaign comes in stages — attract, convert, close, delight.
The most important step in crisis communications is the preparation process.
The planning of the strategy and the steps of managing a communication crisis is the most vital part of crisis communications.
When using Inbound PR methodology, you also plan and prepare each step. You plan your goals and what you want to achieve in order to be able to measure these achievements. This is how you relate ROI to PR efforts. You can use data from promoted, shared, owned content, social media campaigns to measure if you have met your goals.
In crisis management process you have met your goals when you have handled the crisis well. You have done your job if media has communicated the right messages; if in social media there are no bad comments; if employees feel save and investors continue to trust you.
When working on a crisis communications plan, you must monitor and identify issues in social media that may become a crisis.
It’s recommended to ensure that these issues won’t become a crisis. You can provide timely and well-prepared answers. In social media, news spreads with the speed of light and a minor issue might become a major crisis for the company you are working for. This can harm its relationships with consumers and stakeholders.
When building an inbound PR strategy, you also monitor issues consumers have. Around their problems, you shape your content strategy that will help consumers to learn how to solve their problems.
You should know your audiences.
Customized messages and approaches are used for different audiences like customers, employees, media, shareholders, stakeholders, community. Depending on the type of crisis (product or service malfunction, a breach, manufacturing problem, bankruptcy, theft, etc.) and its range and effect on each audience, your messages need to be clear, easy to understand, to hold an apology, to give a solution. Messages need to be sent on time.
For example, employees should not learn about the crisis from the media. Internal announcements need to happen before media announcements. All information needs to be announced to employees. During a crisis the employees are a valuable asset because they can be also the voice of the company, they can be the strongest advocates.
Identify the company’s stakeholders. Brief and train the person.
In Inbound PR methodology, you have your persona. The so-called buyer persona is a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer based on market research and real data about your existing customers. The persona forms your target audience that you want to reach with the content you have created for your campaign.
You need to have a list with the people who will be in the crisis communication team. During a crisis not only the company’s CEO is an important figure, but also people from other management departments, HR, operations, spokespeople who can handle media questions, legal, etc.
The spokesperson must be trained on how to handle a crisis and must be able to answer challenging and specific questions. Such training can verify from a format, lengthen and frequency. For example, workshops or simulations for the whole communication and management team, including different divisions like HR, legal, the service department, etc.
Build your content materials for different stakeholders in advance and then adapt. You’d have news announcements for media, announcements and memos for employees, email or meetings with investors, crisis communication kits for the crisis communication team.
When you work on Inbound PR campaign you create a content plan. For each stage of the persona’s journey, you have different content to offer.
When giving a press conference or having one-to-one interviews, it is better to have Q&As prepared in advance. This way the spokesperson can be ready for tough questions. The Q&As list helps the whole management of the company to be aligned around the same information. The same messages are repeated and shared via different channels. This builds consistency, openness and shows that your company is not withholding information.
Have communication kits, as well. When you have it all prepared, when a crisis strikes, it is easy to adapt and adjust the materials. The communication kit includes press materials, products and service information, contact information, hotline (if needed), social media guide. Indeed, social media guide is a must for every company before, during, after the crisis. With a guide how to answer to potential issues online, you can easily prevent a crisis to strike.
When planning the communication materials include materials that are communicating the company’s strengths. All positive impacts the company has on the community, all positive outcomes that are beneficial for society have to be available. Your company will be communicating what it is doing to fix the problem and how it will improve. All additional positive outcomes will support this evidence.
The same is during an inbound PR campaign. You develop a content strategy beforehand. You know what key elements you want to communicate with your public. Developing all these different content materials that are outlining your company’s positive impact will support the entire campaign and the information flow of the public.
In Inbound PR, you monitor the persona’s behaviour through all the stages (attract, convert, close, delight). Based on your persona behaviour — what, where and when is reading, you decide what additional information to provide in order to move the persona to the next stage. This is also called a persona’s journey because it describes the way your persona consumes your content.
In crisis communication management stage, you basically want to move your targeted publics to the stage of remaining happy with your company, feeling save with your company’s products or services. It is the way your publics respond to your messages during a crisis.
Media relations is a very important moment during a crisis.
All media must be redirected to the same contact. All media must receive the same information. “No comment” and “off the record” answers are not allowed. They can work against your company’s image because they imply you are guilty and you are not taking responsibility.
If you don’t know the answer at the time the question is asked, promise to investigate and return a phone call to the journalist that has asked you this question immediately you have the answer. If you promise an answer, always follow up, even if you cannot reveal information.
Be honest and transparent. This builds trust.
It is vital to have a trustworthy relationship with journalists because they are the people who share your messages to the mass public. This way you have a voice in the public.
With inbound media relations, you also aim to build trust between the journalists and your brand or company. Inbound media relations get you coverage from the content you provide. Journalists find you via the content you have shared on your own channels. You build trust and show that you are an expert. Journalists will come back to you for more content when they write another story in the future.
If you are mistaken, admit it.
Apologize. Be sincere and apologize in time. The more quickly you do so, the more quickly the communication crisis will be solved. Also, your apology needs to be genuine, it has to show empathy. Use simple words, without industry jargons and difficult to understand words and sentences. Always explain what had happened, what you are doing to fix the problem, what will be all outcomes, how you will take care of all impacted stakeholders like employees, community, investors. It is important to show actions that you are fixing what have been damaged.
People need to see the empathy in your spokesperson’s words.
Show and express emotion. Show your customers, employees, shareholders that you care. You are human, you have failed, but you have learnt from your mistake and you admit it and you take actions to make everything right.
In an inbound campaign, you also sympathize with your targeted audience. Understating what challenges they are looking to solve and providing information to them is actually showing them you care and you want to help them.
A recent example of handling a communication crisis is British Airways customers’ data breach case. How the company handled the situation publically and communicate the problem to its customers, shows a lot. Even though the company apologized and said it had taken actions, customers said they didn’t receive the support they expected when they contacted the company prior to the official announcement. Moreover, the majority of the customers learnt about the problem on social media first.
Of course, choosing what channels to be part of the crisis management process is also important.
You know the best where your customers are, but they have to learn the news directly from you. Inform in person first and then use social media. If you plan to use your social media channels, your social media teams need to be trained and briefed what and how quickly they should reply.
When you use your website as the main information channel, you need to make sure everything related to the crisis and what you do is there. You need to update information instantly. Also, a contact information needs to be present, so people can call the company directly to look for answers. Have a hotline for the mass public, if a large group of the community is impacted. Train the people who will handle the hotline in advance. Chatbots also do the work, but you definitely need to provide a phone line at some point in the chat, because people need to hear a human voice during a crisis. They need to feel that you are thinking of them and you are taking care of them.
Use one channel for media.
Virtual press rooms are a good place to update instantly journalists — announcements, updates, solutions, information about company’s products and services, positive outcomes for employees, community, etc. Have one contact only handling media requests. This way you can control the messages you want to deliver.
Use a different channel for all your employees.
Inform employees before anyone else. Your employees need to be aware, up to date on the ongoing situation. They need to feel safe and protected. Everyone who works for you needs to know what to say if they are approached by the media and where they should redirect the media.
Your employees need to have a guide for using their social media profiles too. Have just the company’s social media accounts sharing updates.
For example, Martin Stone, associate director of Tank says:
“this internal communication, alongside a robust social media policy document that limits company information being shared on personal channels, will help protect the established lines of communication between the business and the press.”
During a crisis — repeat, repeat and repeat the same messages to your public.
When you have everyone’s on the team trained then they will know exactly what they need to reply to customers, employees, shareholders via different channels.
So, you have prepared for a crisis, you have outlined the communication plan and you have trained the crisis team.
The crisis strikes. Then what?
Monitor media announcements, online behaviour and comments, and social media channels.
To better adapt your responses, you need to know what people are feeling and saying.
In Inbound PR, you monitor persona’s behaviour through all the stages. Based on your persona’s behaviour, you help, you give information and you move to the next stage.
After you have mastered the crisis communication management process, then it is time for the crisis recovery.
You normalize the pace of communication of everything related to your company. This is the time when you learn the outcomes of the crisis and you improve your performance. You learn to communicate your strengths and corporate values, and to be honest and transparent. You also show the changes you have made.
And, then again you start the preparation stage.