Even if your property management company has done its homework and is well-versed in what to do in a crisis, it’s always a good idea to reassess your communications strategy. Industry challenges and threats change over time; as the market evolves and new external global factors emerge, a business needs to be prepared to face any eventuality if it is to protect its brand and reputation.
Below we’ve answered some key questions around the creation of a strategy and provided five golden rules to keep front of mind when dealing with a negative situation.
What Is a Crisis?
A crisis is a difficult or dangerous situation in the form of an unexpected threat to your organization that requires serious attention to be overcome quickly. A crisis is different from a problem. A problem is a bad day at the office; a crisis is a situation that has stopped normal company activities and necessitates immediate action.
What Is the Goal of a Crisis Communications Strategy?
The main goal of any crisis strategy is to respond quickly to a situation with clarity to protect your company’s reputation. You need to contain and alleviate the situation, not make it any worse.
Why Have a Crisis Communication Strategy in Place?
Many small- to medium-sized companies fall into the trap of thinking they are not as vulnerable to the same level of crisis communication pressures as larger corporates. It’s time to rethink this assumption. A reputation takes time to build through operational success and hard-fought PR wins; however, it can take a mere few hours to be destroyed. One mistake companies can make, big or small, is thinking they can manage a crisis on a small-scale, case-by-case basis. In reality, managing a negative situation proactively is all in the planning.
By having a prepared crisis comms strategy in place, your business is well placed to react quickly to a possible incident/event. The phrase “it can’t happen to us” is not a proactive, responsible response and fails to protect your company, and your employees, from future industry threats.
How to Create a Crisis Communication Strategy
This will obviously vary from business to business and in different sectors; however, the principle stages are as follows
1. Pre-Crisis – Preparation
Brainstorm potential threats to your business (both internal and external, national and global) so you can identify them quickly when they arise.
2. Identify Your Crisis Communications Team
Ideally this should include the CEO, or a member of the C-suite, plus a PR professional. Take legal advice where necessary and err on the side of caution by involving a legal team from the beginning, if required. Statements in response to a crisis should ideally come from the CEO/president or a member of the leadership team. This spokesperson should be readily available during a crisis, prepped to communicate, and well briefed. Offer spokesperson/media training where required, and make sure that your communications team feels confident about facing outwards and delivering the company’s statements to the media/investors/interested parties.
3. Monitor Activity
Through social media, through sales/marketing channels, etc. Information collation is vital.
4. Identify Stakeholders
Internally and externally. Who is affected within your organization and outside?
5. Develop Holding Statements and a Plan of Action
Work on your content in advance and have statements prepared. Treat your strategy like a fire drill: Go through the plan of action with stakeholders and rehearse how you will respond to various situations. If this feels like a waste of time, ask yourself how it will feel if you are presented with a crisis and have no pre-arranged response in place. Seek professional advice from public relations specialists to craft your statements and responses. How you word a statement can have a big impact on how that statement is received by the media.
6. Research the Issue
Before deciding whether to comment and before deciding how to comment, do your best to understand the issue. Fact-gathering is essential, as is researching the root of the problem. When you do comment, make sure the statement is honest and not open to multiple interpretations.
7. Social Media Is Your Friend
In this digital age, we receive most of our news, information, and messages from social media streams. Your content here is just as important, if not more important. React quickly on social media, stay neutral, and try to contain the situation. Use public relations experts within or outside your organization to help craft your message.
Analyze what happened and how to improve/ prepare for next time. A debrief is essential and is how companies learn from their mistakes and build on them for the future.
The 5 Golden Rules in a Crisis
1. Communication: Communicate with your staff internally and with your customers/stakeholders externally. The best way out of a crisis is to keep the channels of communication open, then you can start to influence those channels. Often overlooked, it’s equally important to keep your staff informed so they feel equipped to face clients/customers/investors and, crucially, they know what to say or who in the organization is the point of call for advice, etc.
2. Authenticity: People don’t really like to hear from organizations. They like real people, preferably those with industry knowledge, so keep the human touch in statements/content. Speak as a person, not as a robot. This is
amplified when the response comes directly from the CEO.
3. Transparency: Share information, and keep sharing through traditional media and social media. Do not leave any comment open to interpretation or be vague in any way. This will only serve to provoke journalists into asking more searching questions.
4. Speed: React quickly. Silence is not helpful, and be sure to have content prepared in advance. A sure way to worsen a crisis situation is to be overtly slow with your response as a company to a situation. Silence breeds rumors and can fan the flames of controversy. It’s important to research before deciding to comment in a crisis to make sure you have your facts straight, but taking more than 24 hours to release a statement could be detrimental.
5. Agility: Be prepared to change tact, if necessary, as the situation evolves. Stay nimble and take advice from PR crisis professionals. Keep monitoring the situation and try to anticipate next steps.
What Is the Role of Public Relations in Crisis Management?
Public relations specialists know how to craft the right response, using the right words, to protect a business’s reputation and to manage a crisis. They understand that by adopting the right strategy for a client, it can help to alleviate many issues that come with a crisis. By using a PR professional trained in crisis management during a situation, the potential negative effects can be reduced and even turned into positive outcomes on occasion.
Jessica Gillingham is the founder and director of Abode PR, an award-winning B2B public relations agency focused on raising the profile of transformative technology solutions operating within the global short-term rental, hotel, and “living” property sectors. With over 20 years of experience in public relations, hospitality, and technology, Gillingham is also an adviser, leadership mentor, and industry commentator.