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A Crisis Communications Primer in These Uncertain Times

As business leaders, it’s your job to deliver messaging to your teams and customers with the right amount of urgency for the situation without causing panic. You must develop thoughtful, consistent, fact-based narratives and share them in the right tone to build trust and credibility. In these fluid times when each headline in the news spikes a sense of fear among many people, this is your chance to show your leadership chops.

As a journalist with 30 years under my belt chasing breaking news and disseminating it in a fair and accurate way, I’ve witnessed the best and worst in crisis communications. My strategic communications team at Walk West would like to share with you some guidelines that you can put into practice right away as we manage our teams during the COVID-19 pandemic. Below you’ll find what we teach in our media training sessions.

Crisis Communications Guide

Background:
A crisis is a situation that strains an organization’s reputation, leadership, integrity and loyalty. You can’t control what people are thinking or how they’re reacting in crisis. But you can help mitigate what you and your team do to acknowledge and execute a plan that often times calms the unnerved. The fear of the unknown is what typically robs us of our feeling of safety. So, if you haven’t already done so, take the time today to execute a crisis communications strategy using the steps below in order to keep your teams, customers, and other key stakeholders in the know.

What’s Involved:

People
The team involved in managing crisis communications should be fully briefed on who might contact them in the event of a crisis.
Roles and Tasks
Have a checklist of what role each team member will fulfill during the crisis and what tasks they are assigned when a crisis breaks. Suggested roles include briefing members of the board; internal communications and keeping staff informed; media relations and media monitoring; on-line monitoring;
Messages
Work out in advance what key messages you will communicate in a crisis. Don’t bother with corporate messages about vision statements. People aren’t interested in these when they’re on the edge of frenzy. Think about which messages you want to get across that will resonate with people.
Draft Statements and Responses
Having templates prepared ahead of time can help you turn around information quickly when a crisis occurs. Have background facts and Q&A sheets ready to hand out. Develop your “Buy Time Statement.”
Speed
You need a speedy response, but also speed of thinking and action to be in control of the situation rather than panicking to catch up with the media. You want to run the pace of the story your way having your teams and potential media respond to you rather than the other way around.
Control
Work out how you will take control of the story for each likely scenario. The plan should identify media-trained spokespeople who can represent your company in a crisis. Have some ready prepared images available. If you don’t, the media will look elsewhere to fill the gap.
Practice
Teams need to be familiar with the crisis communications plan. Once we’re out of the woods in our current situation, practice a mock situation twice a year.

Crisis Communications Basic Check List
1. Never say “No Comment”
2. Give as much information without compromising the investigation. Always follow up if you say you will
3. Take control even in negative situations

Develop a “Buy Time” Statement
1. Acknowledge the situation
2. Show concern
3. Give status

To see this in action, take a look at Robert Glazer’s article as he breaks down how New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has communicated to his constituents throughout the ever-changing coronavirus pandemic.

Let us know if we can help you with your messaging. Our team is making contingency plans to work with clients in person in small groups and virtually.

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Sharon Delaney McCloud

Sharon Delaney McCloud

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