The 2018 PRSSA National Conference took place last weekend, and frankly, it would take a semester’s worth of blog posts to pass on the knowledge I gained to all of you. Rather than put you through that, let’s take a look at a topic becoming more relevant and imperative in today’s professional world: how to handle your organization during a crisis.
Every organization makes mistakes, and according to Deborah Hileman, president and CEO of the Institute for Crisis Management, the average number of news headlines signaling corporate reputation risk has increased exponentially each of the past few years. Causes of crises vary, but for the most part, they are at the fault of the organization. When such a crisis occurs, there are certain actions to take, not just toward the public and media, but within the organization as well.
First, control your organization. “Business as usual” is out the door. When a crisis occurs, the worst thing an organization can do is pretend nothing happened. At the same time, the organization needs to be under control in order to solve the crisis and repair any damage. Certain business activities need to be sidelined, even if they lead to short-term income losses; a crisis manager’s job is to protect the future of their organization, not the present. Also, other issues sometimes arise after the initial crisis, and they must be taken just as seriously.
Stakeholders also need to be stabilized. As many PR students probably know, the best way to communicate with the public during a crisis is early and often, and the same goes with stakeholders. Crises are ugly, no doubt, so there’s no point in trying to make your organization look pretty during one. By remaining open and honest, as well as empathetic and committed to a solution, stakeholders are more likely to stand by your organization.
Of course, the best way to handle a crisis is by being prepared in the first place. Hileman suggested that every organization should regularly assess their risks and vulnerabilities. Create plans for these identified risks and regularly exercise them with management. By overcoming the denial that a crisis could happen to your organization and learning from the mistakes of others, you can successfully prepare for, and even prevent, major consequences arising from any crisis.
Remember, the primary goals of crisis management are to 1) resolve immediate primary threats, 2) repair the root cause and 3) restore the organization over time. Though this is “easier said than done,” in every sense of the phrase, your organization can reach these goals if you create a plan before the crisis, control your organization once it occurs and never forget your stakeholders. No one wants a crisis, but everyone is susceptible to them, so put in the necessary work to handle a crisis, and you’ll do just fine!