Thinking About Crises

Our proximity to the disastrous tornadoes that ripped through the Canton area April 29 reminded us of a topic that isn’t addressed nearly as often as it should be in the PR space.

Crisis communications is something that people are likely to think about only after they’ve experienced a disaster or other crisis. At that point, if you haven’t developed a communications plan or at least given serious thought to the subject, it’s too late.

From a PR standpoint, we often emphasize the aspects of a crisis communications plan as it relates to communicating with the media, but there is much more than that. It is also about communicating with employees.

In a disaster, reaching out to your employees is both a caring thing to do and is good business. They are reassured, they feel more closely tied to the business, and they may be able to provide valuable information in a crunch time when the owner or executives may not be thinking as logically as usual.

The same is true when a crisis shows up in forms other than a natural disaster. It could be a fire, a robbery, an armed attack by an individual or group, or the deaths of key or high-profile individuals in the business. Yes, it is important to have a procedure in place for handling media inquiries at times like that, but the internal people factor is at least as important. A company’s public profile is also gauged by the way it deals with its employees, in good times and in bad.

That is why when we work with clients to prepare formal crisis communications plans, we always try to address communications from all aspects. We recommend having a plan in place, though not everyone will ever do that.

But even if a company doesn’t want to put effort into preparing a formal plan, it is extremely important to take the time to encourage executives and others run through the scenarios in their minds. That probably won’t be enough in a chaotic post-crisis atmosphere, but it is better than nothing at all.