ScoMo and Co have been the perfect example of poor communication in a crisis. Slow to move and clear as mud, to many of us it feels like ScoMo is killing us in Slow-mo. Just when we think we’re doing the right thing – the rules change without proper explanation and the rules are not clearly communicated and feel inconsistent to us (e.g stay home but it’s Ok to go to a shopping centre or to get your hair done).
Poor communication is bad at the best of times let alone when it’s from a leader in the middle of a crisis. That’s when we look to our leaders for clear, concise and well prepared communication. We rely on the communication to help allay our fears and anxieties and to reassure us that our leaders have a plan.
I recently interviewed Alistair Nicholas, government relations and public affairs expert on the way in which the Australian federal government has been handling the COVID-19 crisis. It’s important to him that everyone understands that whilst we are using it as an example of what not to do – that we don’t undervalue or estimate how hard our politicians are working in the interest of the country and all Australians. (He’s a good egg, that Alistair). He shares amazing perspective on leadership in the face of not only this crisis, but the Australian bushfires.
You might be thinking that crisis PR is only relevant to governments or large enterprises. Think again! There’s a lot that leaders and business owners can learn from this crisis and implement lessons learned for their own organisations.
A single crisis can shut down the business you’ve worked hard to build or completely destroy your reputation making it near impossible to rebuild. With good leadership and clear communication, it can also be an opportunity to rise, establish trust and credibility and kick some goals that will help you score big in the future.
An issue or a crisis?
Put very simply, an issue is something that might be significantly hindering your ability to do business to your full potential. But you’re still in business and whilst the impact might be significant, it will play out over a long period of time.
A crisis has the potential to bring you to an immediate halt – the massive impact is felt immediately or in a very short period of time.
That’s why crisis management starts with being prepared – well before the crisis hits. Because when it does, every second counts, and you shouldn’t be wasting those seconds trying to figure out what to do. Your playbook should be ready and the players prepared with a few practice runs under your belt.
What can you actually plan?
When you outline the potential crises for your organsiation, you’ll quickly realise that a lot can actually be predicted. Here’s what you’re planning for:
- Operationally what would need to happen if this crisis played out?
- What would the legal obligations be?
- Who would the contacts be?
- Do you have or need a relationship with them?
- Who would you need to communicate with and at what point(s)?
- What would you say?
- What would you put up on our website / social media channels?
- What would a crisis management team look like?
- Who would be your key spokespeople? Are they media trained (they should be!)?
- Are they good communicators? Are they able to be empathetic?
- Have they been presentation trained? (they should be!). Do they have a good reputation with the stakeholders they would be communicating to?
- What do they look like on camera?
This is simple brain dump – there’s much more you’d need to do. Now imagine doing this in 24 hours for the very first time. You’re in big, big trouble. You need a manual for every crisis. It needs to be on hand, updated at least annually and rehearsed annually too.
What can you be doing now?
Everything! Take a look at the list – most of what is in on there takes a long time to be achieved and yet will be called upon and activated in a day. Who you get to help you with this, how much will be involved and how much it costs depends heavily upon the scale and significance of your crises and business.
Document the potential crises that keep you up at night or those that could potentially bring your business to an immediate halt– discuss them with your management team. Ask them whether they feel confident that if one of these crises hit tomorrow, that the organisation could handle it well.
I’m pretty sure you already know the answer.
Then go and seek the advice of a professional.
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Commical with Marie El Daghl covers interpersonal, group and mass communication with a different guest each week. Together, they look and laugh at different communication events and experiences – and highlight what you can learn from them.
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