How to manage your first crisis
Did something unexpected happen? That's alright – crisis can happen and it doesn't need to be a bad thing. Here's 5 easy steps on how to manage your first crisis.
Also see: How to prepare for a crisis
1 Collect information
Create a new document called Crisis Communication Plan. One clear perspective is needed, which this plan will make sure of.
Now you're ready to collect all the information you have in front of you. Uncertanty will always be present in the beginning of a crisis. And that's alright, you can accept this. But the media on the other hand will probably not.
If you don't know the answer to a question – it's alright to say that you don't know yet. Be sure to get back to them later.
Stakeholders are those who are affected by the crisis. Set yourself in their position before preparing your statements. How do they feel? What do they think? You will need to communicate mutual understanding on both the emotional and logical level.
2 Prepare statements
Choose a spokesperson that can represent the whole company. It doesn't necessary has to be the CEO, but someone who is confident in talking with the media. One clear voice is needed when there's a bigger crisis, sometimes there can be two voices to support each other.
Questions from the media
- What has happened?
- The extent of the damage?
- The risk for further damage?
- Why did this happen?
- Who or what caused this?
- When is it over?
- Has it happened before?
- Were there any early signals?
- What are you doing now?
When to apologize
Did you cause this?
Apologize, compensate the stakeholders (if it makes sense) and show real action for improvement.
Did someone else in the company cause this?
Don't blame them, they where hired by the leadership of your company. Apologize for the whole company and be sure to show real action for improvement.
Did someone outside of the company cause this?
Build a case around that and be sure to prove it. Don't apologize, but take action to prevent it from happening again.
3 Be available & honest
Show up, be present, take the calls and represent the company. This reduces any rumors as well as establishing a mutual understanding.
Never lie to the public, you only risk to cause an even bigger crisis by doing so. If you don't know the question to an answer yet, just say that. Also tell them why you don't know. They will understand.
4 Use the right channels
Only do a press conference if you're prepared for all the questions the media might have. If you don't think a dialoge is needed, choose a press release instead or any other channel you might think is better.
This is great for establishing relationships. But only do this if you're prepared to meet the amount of opinions, feelings and rumors people might have.
This is a one-way channel, so be sure to cover everything that the public needs to know here. It's also a big source for journalists looking for quotation.
Having a dedicated page is good when there's a lot to cover. Here you can tell your own story with your own layout and FAQ. This also works as a load-off when directing questions from social media. But don't let redirection become your main tool. Social media are still for dialoges.
When you can't reach your stakeholders in any other way, this is where to go. Ads are great for reaching a bigger audience.
5 Show action
Try not to settle until your stakeholders are 100% satisfied. When you finally reach this stage – go a bit further to maximize your relationship if possible. You already have the spotlight, use it well.
When the big meat scandal in ICA Supermarket (Sweden) was over and managed successfully, popularity for their meat actually went up.
Successfull stories in recent years
Voi responded to the traffic accidents by creating their own traffic school.
When electic scooter accidents arose in 2019, Voi where always quick to respond when journalists had questions. Later that year, Voi released their own traffic school where they offered free rides if you took part of the digital course.
When people started eating Tide Pods on Youtube, Tide responded seriously but without apologizing.
Some could think that Tide was to blame for making the tide washing pods look like candy. But it was really the stupidity of social media challanges that was to blame here. Therefor, Tide never made an apology. Instead they reached out on social media in a mutual way towards both parents and kids.
This was a personal summary of what I've learned from studying the field of Crisis Communication, together with my own experiences. Be sure to read the following litteratures to get an even bigger understanding of this field.
Mitroff, Ian I. (2004). Crisis Leadership: Planning for the Unthinkable. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley. 144 pages.
Coombs, W. Timothy. (2019). Ongoing Crisis Communication. Planning, Managing and Responding. 5. ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. 194 pages.