Crises occur when they’re least expected, which is why crisis communications are necessary for every organization. Although life would be so much easier if emergencies arrived with a fair warning, you and your organization would be better off having an effective plan to help avoid catastrophe and permanent reputation damage.
In this episode of Messaging on a Mission, David Oates, a renowned Crisis PR expert, sheds light on how individuals and organizations can avoid potential PR disasters and reveals the best things to do during pre-crisis, crisis, and post-crisis situations.
The biggest common mistakes organizations or individuals make during a crisis are: (1) being the last person to know when somebody’s chattering about you online; (2) providing an inadequate response, such as responding angrily, overly emotionally, or not responding at all; (3) not following up.
Two cardinal rules in any crisis communication response are empathy and following up with action. Don’t expect one statement, tweet, post, or press release is going to solve the matter.
Oftentimes, there’s an element of truth in an accusation. You and your organization may become less credible, and restoring your reputation will become challenging when you don’t address the element of truth in the accusation. However, with empathetic responses and regular follow-ups, you can quickly rectify the misunderstanding or repair a lot of damage.
Respond proactively during a pre-crisis state if the damage will hurt more when you hold back information or delay your response. During a crisis, deal with any negative media mentions immediately and consistently, as the damage it causes will only increase as time lapses.
Your employees can make or break anything you say publicly. Prioritize them during a crisis and convey the same empathetic and action-oriented message to empower them, as they can become powerful messengers for you.
If you’re guilty as charged, own up to your mistake, be empathetic, take actions to fix the error, and avoid reoccurrence because you won’t get to have a second chance to restore your reputation. Lawsuits may come regardless of whether you state an apology or not. However, apologizing will reduce your legal liability risk more often than not.
When you have to respond to a crisis but can’t disclose certain information for legal or security reasons, tell them why you can’t and what you’re doing to support the event.
Always be prepared for a crisis. To do this: (1) figure out your top inherent risks and develop communication scenarios that align with your disaster recovery plans; (2) delegate responsibilities and minimize miscommunication; (3) train people who will be involved in the crisis management process; (4) occasionally go through disaster recovery drills and make crisis communications part of that.
Learn from the crisis, and make necessary adjustments to avoid recurrence. Monitor media outlets for potential risks so you won’t be the last to know when your reputation is being called to question online.
About Our Guest
David Oates has more than 25 years of strategic public relations experience dealing with a wide array of adverse public events. Starting as a U.S. Navy Public Affairs Officer and later as a corporate Chief Marketing Officer and non-profit President, he excels in expertly addressing a myriad of crises spanning military, government, corporate, charity, and start-up environments. His crisis communications experiences include handling employee and executive misconduct, cybersecurity attacks, product recalls, mass layoffs, large-scale accidents, criminal investigations, and civil litigation matters.
Dave has authored three Amazon e-books and co-produced two LinkedIn Learning courses: Crisis Communication for HR and HR Communication in Today’s Fluid Workplace. He is an accredited PR specialist (APR) who received his MBA from San Diego State University in 2004 and his bachelor’s degree from the University of Maryland in 1991.