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Crisis Comms: Be prepared (but not too prepared)

 

According to Coral Communication's Nick Barnes, you can be too prepared for a crisis… but you can never have too much reliable data.

 

Crises are, generally speaking, rare events.  They can hit an organisation at any point, with far reaching effects.  Crisis communication is different from other forms of communication. A crisis creates extreme pressure.  It can all happen immediately. Everyone wants to know all at once what is happening; demands from media and other stakeholders.

The impact of a crisis can be so great that most organisations now have in place plans to counter their effects.  Organisations invest heavily in creating a culture of preparedness, designed to enable people to behave effectively in stressful and challenging situations.  They conduct regular simulation exercises to identify opportunities for improvement and develop contingency plans, outlining potential scenarios they may be faced with.

But can you really be prepared for a “crisis?” After all, isn’t each one different?  Is being over-prepared any better than being under prepared?

Of course, I’m not advocating being ignorant to the potential for a crisis to land at your door.  Indeed, ignoring the possibility of a crisis in today’s climate is just plain reckless – they are part of corporate life and organisations should not be lulled into a false sense of complacency that it won’t happen to them.

But their unpredictability means that no organisation can 100% prepare.  Research has shown, for example, that people behave differently when under pressure, despite their level of preparation, making behaviours difficult, if not impossible to predict.  

Over-preparation can risk distracting from the genuine and more subtle preparation that is needed for a situation where you might be required to do some spontaneous and inventive thinking.  When it comes to stakeholder interactions and more unpredictable situations, mere knowledge or learning is often not enough to get organisations through. 

Preparation is a movement of the mind and at the onset of a crisis, communicators need to consciously shift from their normal level to a more responsive position and making sure this happens at the right time is key.  Too much preparation and there is a risk of complacency setting in and that critical mind-shift not taking place. 

For crisis communications to be effective, therefore, requires communicators to find a balance between their crisis preparation and their capacity to react to the unknown.  This is where measurement comes in.

 

Staying analytical during a crisis

In crisis communications you only have one chance to get it right.  Most organisations don’t evaluate the effectiveness of their communications until after an event is over.  Effective crisis communications, however, need to be considered in the context of the live period, where organisations are being scrutinised the most by their stakeholders.

In the live period, the most important tool at a communicator’s disposal is reliable data; and this requires good measurement. Before you can respond to a crisis, you have to understand exactly what’s fuelling it.  Rather than following pre-prepared plans, communicators need to use the real-time data surrounding a crisis to guide their messaging for each stakeholder group in each channel and react quickly.

Communicators need to always be listening carefully to their audiences during an event. What are the issues that are surfacing in chat rooms and in the media? How are employees, vendors, and the community responding to your messages? These questions can easily be answered through strategic and targeted measurement.  If a crisis is ongoing, and decisions need to be made hourly / daily as to what to say or not say, then this type of monitoring is absolutely essential.

The most important part of the measurement process is to analyse the data for what you can learn from it. What are the actionable points, how can you change and improve? What needs to be done now? What should you react to? What should you ignore? These insights and recommendations ensure that your measurement system is effective.

 

Example metrics

An efficient framework for designing your crisis communication metrics is by stakeholder group.  Below are some examples of metrics for each stakeholder group.

  • The media:  impressions | media clips (by geography) | article sentiment
  • Employees:  (for employee posts only) social media conversation volume | social media sentiment
  • Influencers / Opinion formers:  social media sentiment | media sentiment | media article volume
  • Investors:  financial-related media article volume | article sentiment | impressions | social media sentiment / conversation volume

 

The final word

Crises are inherently unpredictable, chaotic events.  Any effort to articulate a generalised approach should first acknowledge that every crisis is a unique event that can be expected to evolve in unexpected ways. 

Managing crisis communications requires a well-integrated and balanced approach of preparedness and informed invention.  Good monitoring and measurement metrics are an essential tool to help with this.  They tell you who to communicate with, what needs to be communicated and how best to reach stakeholders on each channel.  Measurement should always be ongoing and an integral part of your organisational strategy.  It doesn’t have to be a costly, scientific surveys, just the opinions of those that really matter, and usually those people are very reachable. 

Mitigating a crisis is very much like putting out a real fire and it is critical that communicators have the tools to act quickly and informatively to deal with it head on, so that it can burn itself out.

 

ABOUT NICK BARNES

Nick Barnes is a specialist in measuring people engagement, with more than 10 years agency experience supporting some of the world’s best known and most complex organisations, including HSBC, BP, Travelocity and BAA.  Nick has extensive experience working in and in close partnership with HR and Corporate Communications, in the areas of measurement , strategy creation and brand,.  Nick spent 11 years in London before moving to Australia in 2012 to establish Coral Communications. Nick believes strongly in partnering with people to develop and deliver complimentary and sustainable communications and measurement strategies.

ABOUT CORAL COMMUNICATIONS

Helping people in business thrive! 

At Coral, we partner with people; likeminded professionals who are passionate about creating an environment where people can thrive.  We help connect a business with its people.  How do we do this?  By restoring the balance to your communications processes; activating brands in the hearts and minds of people; holding the mirror on what matters most; and releasing creativity by navigating the path to innovation.

 

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