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Crisis communication: the right response

A company can be thrown into crisis at any time, and it usually comes as a complete surprise. The cause of the crisis is sometimes a simple event that on the surface does not seem very significant, but it is just as likely to be a much more major event. A human error, a computer bug, a merger or acquisition, or a serious incident involving a product are just a few examples of the kinds of events that can unleash a cascade of negative publicity and plunge a company into genuine crisis.

What is the best way to respond in such situations? How can you contain the many negative reactions directed at your company? And how can you limit the damage to your image?

It is important to bear in mind that there is no miracle cure. However, we would like to give you five key tips that can help you limit the damage.

1. Don’t wait

If your company suddenly finds itself in crisis, it can be very tempting to crawl into your shell and wait until the storm subsides. This is a bad idea. If you do not communicate, others will, and that means you will no longer have any control over the situation. It is important to act quickly so that you have the initiative and keep it. The faster you respond, the more opportunity you will have to explain and ‘impose’ your message and standpoint.

2. Be transparent, but be careful

Try to be as transparent as possible when communicating. This will prevent the situation from escalating and help you avoid new ‘accusations’. Be clear, make your message as specific as you can, and avoid anything that could be termed hot air. Remember that you are not required to disclose every detail. Keeping quiet about certain aspects is acceptable as long as you do not give the impression you want to avoid the problem, play it down or even sweep it under the carpet. Be sure to think carefully about what you intend to say, what you are actually able to say, and how you can sidestep awkward questions.

3. Be reassuring

If a mistake has been made, acknowledge the mistake and give a commitment that you will get to the root of the problem, deal with it and make sure the mistake can never be repeated.  Show determination and be honest. Make sure that the public genuinely want to believe you, and above all demonstrate that you are willing to take action. No matter what kind of crisis you are dealing with, talk the same language as the target audience and try to be reassuring.

4. Crisis communication requires a spokesperson with authority

Selecting the right spokesperson for contact with the press is crucial to all your communications, but it is especially important in the case of crisis communication. Ensure that the person who talks to the press is in as high a position of authority as possible at your organisation. This will show the target audience that you take the matter seriously and intend to do everything within your power to solve the problem.

5. Watch your body language

It is true that body language can say much more than words. Make sure that your body language is completely in keeping with your message. If, for example, you say that you are open to talks or offer an apology while your posture is very closed or defensive, it is highly likely that you will not be believed. This is a golden rule in all forms of communication, but it is even more important during a crisis.