Hope for the Best, Prepare for the Worst: Corporate Crisis Communication Do’s and Don’ts

What defines a crisis? What conditions constitute a “code red, all hands on deck,” corporate response? The answers to these questions depend on situational elements like perceived severity (which is dangerously and individually subjective), context and the event itself.  For instance, college students have drastically different definitions than corporate communications officers. Example: our PR class was assigned a quiz that would be given the next class. The morning of the quiz, it had not so much as been brought into the room, yet sheer panic had set in. As our professor stood before 16 (barley) grown men and women on the brink of tears, a brave soul asked if the class could take the quiz in a group discussion format. After several minutes of convincing, a collective sigh of relief was let out when we were told we would not take the quiz at all. Crisis averted.

There are two types of crisis that can befall an organization. The first type is human made, which is exactly what it sounds like, the results of human error. In this case, an organization can either be the victim or the party at fault. The second type is natural disaster. Devastating examples include, but are not limited to tornadoes, earthquakes and wildfires.

I would like to be so bold as to add two subcategories: foreseeable and surprise. Foreseeable may relate more frequently to natural disasters. Storms, tsunamis and floods are now predicted and prepared for, thanks to developments in technology and knowledge. However, an earthquake, landslide or fire may be a total surprise. Due to the inherent ability of humans to screw things up, surprise crises occur without warning, yet require the same kind of preparation and awareness. Diligent corporate organizations like Under Armour and Apple have come to understand the latter point, and implemented brilliant plans to come out of a potential or actual tragedies stronger.

As a personal aside, I believe social media enables more human made, surprise crisis situations to occur where a company or an individual being represented is at fault. The instantaneous nature of online communication allows users to voice opinions without considering future implications of something as seemingly harmless as 140 characters.

Corporately, there are many things at stake for an organization that hinge on the public perception of how either type of crisis situation is handled. Reputation, credibility, brand image and overall public good will can be strengthened or extensively and almost irreversibly damaged. Here, Forbes lists lessons to be learned from the biggest PR cases of major companies in 2016.

Using the basic understanding of what a crisis is, here is a list of helpful do’s and don’ts to create a plan to be implemented before, during and after an emergency strikes:

Three DO’s

  1. Before: Brainstorm. Think of everything that could possibly go wrong. Even if the specific situation you draw out does not happen, something requiring a similar response might come up. Instead of looking at it in a pessimistic light, look at each situation, as an opportunity to come out stronger and maintain a better relationship with stakeholders.
  2. During: Take responsibility and be accessible to the stakeholders most effected.
  3. After: Online platforms like Twitter and Facebook allow stakeholders to give feedback. Monitor public opinion and tailor statements and actions to address widely held beliefs about the crisis.

Three DON’T’s

  1. Before: Become complacent or lax in updating a plan. Environments and situations evolve, and so should a plan to deal with new circumstances.
  2. During: State, “we’re working on coming up with a solution so this never happens again.” In wake of tragedy, of course there will be measures taken to try an prevent a repeat incident. Stakeholders want specific and transparent pieces of information that are relevant to them.
  3. After: Never answer a question with, “No comment.” This answer seems as if  you are withholding information to cover guilt.

A crisis can strike at any time, in any place and to any company. With the information above in mind, what is a recent example of a corporate crisis you can think of? Would you deem the actions taken by the companies involved successes or failures?


One thought on “Hope for the Best, Prepare for the Worst: Corporate Crisis Communication Do’s and Don’ts

  1. I love this first paragraph! That scenario sounds oddly familiar to a situation I experienced this semester. Perhaps it was the same group? Ha ha. But you are right, crisis averted and perfect scores for all.


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