The 6 Steps to Crisis Communication Preparedness

By January 7, 2016 PR Insights No Comments

The 6 Steps to Crisis Communication PreparednessHow to manage your efforts when crisis strikes

In many ways, 2015 was the Year of the Crisis when it came to corporate communications – from the Volkswagen emissions scandal to the host of data breaches that affect financial services companies. The reality is that allorganizations will experience a crisis at some point, though hopefully not on the scale of Volkswagen.

One of the enduring lessons we can learn from the mistakes of others is that an organization’s response to a crisis is often as (or in some cases more) impactful on that organization than the crisis itself.

Time and again, we see organizations fumble through the management of crises, but there are also a host of organizations that effectively manage crises. As you study them, a pattern begins to emerge.

As you evaluate your own credit union and its crisis preparedness (or lack thereof), consider some of the proven communications steps that organizations have used to successfully manage crises once they occur:

  1. Select the Right Spokesperson – If a computer glitch shuts down power at a few of your branches on a weekday, your communications executive is likely a suitable spokesperson. If a branch experiences an armed hostage situation or if your members’ data is compromised by a data breach, it needs to be your CEO addressing the media. The title of the spokesperson should correspond with the scale of the crisis.
  2. Immediate Response – While all crises are not created equal, all demand an immediate statement of response. This is perhaps the most critical point in crisis management as it provides the organization with an opportunity to establish credibility and proactively frame the narrative about how it will manage the crisis. Define what is known, what is being done, and when the public can expect an update.
  3. Identify the Cause – While it seems obvious, organizations often fail in this step and, as a result, risk a lack of credibility moving forward. To solve a problem, you must first identify the source of the problem. Once you do, communicate that and confirm that it has been isolated.
  4. Articulate the Response – If no information or little detail is provided, the public will craft their own narrative which may or may not be based on facts. With the proliferation of social media, this can often outpace your own communications into the marketplace. Clearly explain your plan of action to resolve the crisis and provide a timeline to resolution.
  5. Express Sympathy – Whether your crisis is a simple data error, a significant data breach or as a result of natural disaster, it is essential to communicate openly with those directly affected and to take steps to address damages both in the immediate term and long term. In many cases, those affected are your members and you want them to remain members after the crisis is resolved. Those members not directly impacted will be watching closely to see how your organization responds and, based on that, will decide whether to remain loyal to you as well.
  6. Future Prevention – The public wants assurances that it won’t happen again. Once a crisis is resolved, clearly communicate what new protocols and procedures have been put in place and explain how this mitigates the risk of future, similar crises. Additionally, organizations are often able to leverage their experience in facing and managing a crisis to take a leadership position in helping their industry better prepare for future, similar crises.

While suffering a crisis almost always impacts your business in the short term, the long-term effect on brand equity and member loyalty and retention can be profound. Credit unions that recognize this and proactively plan for crises, then execute their crisis plans with both in mind ultimately rebound the quickest when (not if) crisis strikes.

Blair Logan is a senior vice president at William Mills Agency, the nation’s largest independent public relations firm focusing exclusively on the financial services and technology industries. The agency can be followed onTwitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or its blog.

CUES’ Credit Union Management’s online-only “PR Insight” column runs the first Thursday of every month.

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