What's New In Crisis Communications? Everything (and Nothing)

Police Car Lights - GOODFor the second time in a year, I was very flattered to be asked to serve as the featured speaker at a meeting of InterCom, a group of professional communicators from a variety of disciplines in West Michigan. The topic was “How To Communicate Effectively In a Crisis” – I was asked to present on what has changed and what hasn’t changed in communicating “bad news.”

I’ll share a few of the “takeaways” from the session, which sparked a lively discussion among the members present. First, even in the age of the Internet and instant, personal communications, the fundamentals of adversity communications are perhaps more important than ever. If you nail the basics and apply them across every platform, you put yourself in a position for success.

Also, the internal audience has never been more important. If you deliver your message effectively to the audience closest to you, you stand the best chance of having the right message emanate from that audience. Right now, the organizations that get into trouble are those that ignore the internal audience or miscommunicate in that part of the equation and then are doomed by negative or inaccurate emails, texts or phone calls that taint the communications chain.

As for the public, it’s worth remembering that the days of “put a statement on the wire and go home” are long over. The Web has added a new dimension (and more work) to navigating crisis communications. It’s important to remember that the public will look to your website for updates and information during a bona fide crisis and your Social Media presences for your organization’s take on other “bad news.” Of course, audiences like journalists, government officials and close business contacts must still be communicated to directly.

One member of the audience asked a good question – how should the growing number of sole proprietors heed this advance? I suggested the example of the lone entrepreneur getting sick with the flu. That could mean days of delays on deliverables to customers. In that case, customers and others need to know, in clear terms, what to expect, as well as reassurance. Like the factory that would be temporarily closed because of a chemical spill, the flu could cripple a “single shingle” business. The same communications rules apply.

Even with fewer journalists digging for scoops and fewer newsroom ears listening to scanners, crisis communications is still a hot topic, as evidenced by the well attended meeting last week. For communications professionals, the good news is that you don’t have to relearn what you already know. But you need to add to it to be most effective.