Issues and Crisis Management – Top Tips!

Issues and Crisis Management – Top Tips!

For those that don’t know, I’m fortunate enough to manage the marketing, communications and PR for a successful outdoor, multi day, music, arts and lifestyle festival that’s recognisedas one of the best “transformational festivals” in the world.  The event was held successfully in January (2013), but not before a last minute crisis of epic proportion when the festival was almost cancelled just a week before it was due to start!  Fortunately we came through the other side relatively unscathed but the result could have been significantly worse without good issues and crisis management.

Consequently, I thought I’d take some time to share just a few strategies for effective issues and crisis management. I truly hope you never need it!

Tim x 🙂

Have Your Issues and Crisis Protocols Ready
Sometimes when large organisations are faced with a crisis, the wheels can move far too slowly or even grind to a stop while senior management argue over the best response.  This is “head slapping” territory, as the protocol and responses for dealing with any anticipated issue or crisis should be discussed and resolved long before it’s needed.  In the worst case if you feel confident and time is critical, do what you think is right, but be prepared to apologise later if you are wrong.

The First 24 Hours Are Critical.
It doesn’t take long for a good news story to spread.  It takes a shitload less time for a bad news story to inhabit every corner of the “mediaverse”.  As soon as you know something is going to “break” in the media get an official response written and approved with the utmost urgency.  If you’re quick enough you’ll get your side of the story out before the initial article is syndicated across the country.  This official response needs to be highly visible across multiple communication platforms such as website and social media and should accurately explain both the current situation and what your organisation proposes to do about it.  Without comprehensive information the media have been known on occasion to make shit up, so don’t give them the opportunity.

Be Decisive But Not Divisive.
Making decisions quickly and effectively are incredibly important when faced with a time critical crisis.  Quite often these situations will develop a life of their own and if you don’t keep up you will be left behind, a spectator to your own organisation’s crucifixion.  Balanced with this is the need to keep your team informed and to ensure appropriate management and stakeholders are included in the decision making process.  Sometimes it’s a tricky medium to strike but it’s better than dealing with a second crisis as your workplace falls apart because the internal supported is absent.

If You Fuck Up, Fess Up.
People make mistakes, organisations are people.  Sometime we forget this, but mistakes are a forgivable, natural part of our existence.  If your organisation is caught trying to squirm their way out of responsibility, it will look desperate and transparent and will only further undermine brand integrity.  You are better to admit fault and show you’re human.
Remember…. bruised egos heal faster than bruised reputations!

Give Your Colleagues And Staff Guidelines For Communication.
Inform your team immediately of the crisis and explain any communication restrictions necessary to ensure only consistent and correct information is disseminated to stakeholders, media and the public.  This doesn’t mean you put a gag order on your staff, that’s just going to make things worse and they will start to catastrophise about what the hell’s going on.  Usually it’s good enough to request that any external flowing communication be approved by the PR manager or equivalent. Your colleagues generally want to do the right thing so working with them is much easier than trying to silence them.

Communicate Honestly/ Communicate Often
Your two greatest enemies at this stage are other peoples tendency to bullshit and your own!  If there is a vacuum of detail you haven’t filled with fact, expect people to speculate wildly.  If you are dishonest in your communication, expect to be found out.  This is true through the whole journey of your crisis.  So make sure you keep your public fed with accurate detail and lots of updates and they won’t go looking to fill their minds with rumours and bullshit from unreliable sources.

Social Media And Censorship
You can’t censor people for what they say, but you can censor them for how they say it.  If your organisation has a social media presence then at some stage you will have to deal with the temptation to censor someone.  Apart from racism, hate speech etc you should NEVER really censor people for expressing their opinions.  If you do, there’s a good chance it will come back and bite you badly.  You’re better off trying to encourage a more mature conversation based on accurate information.  Most of the big shit stirrers on social media will get abusive if their view is questioned by others.  While I won’t ban someone for having an opinion, I won’t hesitate if the quality of the discourse descends below the standard outlined in the “house rules” or “code of conduct” page.  Banning people for abusing others is wildly more acceptable than banning them for their opinion, remember that!

When The Crisis Is Over.
Like a bush-fire, a crisis has the potential to reignite if not monitored properly.  So keep an eye on things for at least a couple of weeks to ensure there’s no flare ups.  Also, don’t forget to check your team to ensure everyone got through the storm relatively undamaged.  Crisis management is high stress stuff and people handle it differently, you don’t want to lose staff as a consequence.  It’s also good practice to personally thank those who supported you whether they be stakeholders, colleagues, other companies or your public.

Acknowledging the assistance of support is a great way to ensure it’s there next time if required.

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