Paradoxically, communication is one of the most important aspects for the management of a crisis… And one of the most neglected points. If we draw the parallel with the etymology, how can one take a decision without exchange of information? How can one dispute and judge without communication?
Crisis communication plan
An organization should be prepared to face a crisis and be able to respond promptly, accurately and with confidence in the hours and days following the emergency state. This communication preparation goes through a plan that structures the problem and brings solutions.
- What are we going to communicate internally?
- What are we going to communicate externally? To whom?
- Supervisory authorities;
- How are we going to communicate (communication support and language elements)?
- Who will communicate and how?
All these questions should be considered and the responses noted before a crisis strikes. The fundamental aims are to remain in control of the information, inform and convey a message that will reassure and protect the organization’s reputation.
Communication starts even in the early stages of an emergency. Stakeholders should gather and discuss in order to understand the situation, collect all relevant information, verify the trustworthiness of the information, evaluate the impact or potential impact and only then, to formally activate the crisis plan.
The first thing one is tempted to do is to simply say nothing, restricting the information as much as possible and pretending to know nothing. This is normal due to the fact that for a company, communicating about a crisis is like revealing its weak points and even negatively impacting its own reputation.
But this is the wrong choice. What needs to be understood here is that the situation is a crisis: it will be noticed. And if the organization does not communicate on it, others will. The information will not be controlled and it is likely that rumours, false information or even exaggeration of the situation will appear. In the end, the organization will suffer a worse negative impact because of this kind of false information, as well as, more importantly, due to a decrease of trust as a result of trying to keep it silent.
A better approach is to use the “stealing thunder” concept originating from law:
In a contentious situation, such as a court case, political debate or public relations crisis, it is a tactic used to weaken the force of an adverse point. By introducing the point first and being open about it or rebutting it, the force of the opposition’s argument is diminished – their thunder is stolen1Applied Crisis Communication and Crisis Management – SAGE Publications (2013).
Better to take the initiative and communicate about it so that no reproach will be made afterward. In the end, the crisis may even bring a positive impact on the company’s reputation, by showing to customers and potential future customers that the organization’s culture is to be open, honest and conscientious.
Organizations should communicate when facing a crisis. Naturally, to communicate does not mean “to expose everything”. It should be done in a concise manner, and strictly limited to the information that needs to be communicated, nothing more and nothing less. And to do this in a controlled way, it is essential to be prepared in advance.