Crisis Communications: Protecting and Saving Reputations Everywhere!

An Interview with Evan Bloom of Fortress Strategic Communications

Communication is critical to the success of an organization — especially during a crisis. How well an organization communicates can help or hurt any reputation.

I have previously written about how organizations can better understand their reputation risk; one of those methods is to analyze your audience to improve communications. Whether the audience is employees, business partners, or customers, every word and action counts, which is why there are companies that focus on providing strategic advice on communications, especially crisis communications.

I interviewed Evan Bloom, CEO of Fortress Strategic Communications, on this topic to get an expert’s opinion. Here is what he said:

1) What are the top 5 things that companies should take into consideration when communicating with customers on a day-to-day basis?

  1. The more companies communicate, and the better their communication, the more likely it is that customers will be receptive to receiving information from the company when it is in a crisis. Better and frequent communication creates an understanding of a company and this may help the company when it is facing a crisis or potential crisis.
  2. Regular communication contributes to brand affinity.
  3. Don’t lie or send mixed messages, always ensure that communications are clear and truthful. If a company loses a client due to poor treatment or communication, it is harder to win back a former client than gain a new client.
  4. Ensure that whatever communication and treatment clients receive, employees receive the same. If a customer is treated badly and they vent on social media or go to the media you do not want employees to anonymously add to the fire by saying, ‘Yes, and you should see how company ABC treats its employees!’
  5. To communicate effectively and efficiently, companies must understand their clients including where they get their information from (media and social media channels) and how they perceive the company’s brand. A core part of understanding clients, which impacts communications, is being aware of their views and opinions. This includes knowing what they are saying and doing in the social media realm, knowing and understanding what they are saying on the shop floor and knowing what they are saying to call centers on a daily basis. Too many companies are ‘divorced’ from their customers and therefore do not know how to articulate their communication and service accordingly.

2) What is the worst communication mistake you have seen? Why? And what could have been done differently to avoid this mistake?

I think that the recent Equifax crisis is a pretty good example of how not to manage a crisis. Their communication error, based on what is publicly known from the media, is that Equifax allegedly tried to cover up their data breach.

As tough as it is, one of the most important strategies is to get out in front of the bad news. This allows you to break your own bad news and gives you some say in what is disseminated by the media. Remember, you cannot control the media, but you can control what is sent to them and this can impact the perception that the media universe creates.

Honest, upfront, spin free and proactive communication with correct messaging helps far more than covering things up and hoping the bad news will go away.

 3) Why is crisis communication important?

A company that is crisis communications ready is a company that is serious about its brand, reputation, staying in business, and continuing to provide its services, solutions and products to its customers.

Having a well managed risk environment that includes all the relevant plans – crisis communications, business continuity, cyber security, HR, and data breach – amongst many others – also points to a level of corporate responsibility and maturity and having this level of preparedness could contribute to keeping a company open and people employed.

Today there is no excuse. Companies have to be crisis communications ready and be prepared to communicate with all the stakeholders that it engages with.

4) What are the key components of a crisis communication plan?

There are standard components that are in every crisis plan. However, one of the challenges that I see is that many crisis communication planners simply use a template approach, drop in relevant information into various ‘boxes,’ tick things off, and think they have a crisis communications plan.

I am of the firm belief that before you plan you must know your vulnerabilities because how can you plan if you do not know where you are vulnerable and what the impacts of the crisis will be. Being aware of vulnerabilities also gives a company a better understanding of what holding statements to prepare and what resources it may need to deal with crises.

You should also create your crisis management team and identify your spokesperson, before the plan is built out because the team should be part of the crisis planning process – it gives them an opportunity to be involved in the planning process, which will bring greater familiarity with the plan when its time to implement it. Also, out of the vulnerability audit you will know what crises you could face and what human assets may be needed on the crisis team – even though there are almost always ‘the usual suspects.’

The basic components of a crisis communications plan are listed below – but there are many more components that could be added depending on the company, its operational environment and risks identified:

  1. List of crisis team members with contact details
  2. What constitutes a crisis
  3. Processes to be followed if a crisis is identified and declared
  4. Company policies and responsibilities for various crises (product recall, data breach)
  5. Roles and responsibilities of each person on the team
  6. Stakeholder communication policies, processes for internal and external audiences
  7. Collateral materials to be used for the media and other stakeholders
  8. Holding statements and core messaging for digital, broadcast and traditional media
  9. List of third-party experts, their contact details and responsibilities
  10. Journal to document actions taken – this is crucial from a governance and compliance perspective

Don’t forget to media train everyone – even the crisis team members whom may not speak to the media. The crisis communications plan needs to be tested and exercised at least every six months.

5) What was the best crisis response you have seen from an organization? Why?

There are many but a 2011 one involving an American Red Cross employee mistakenly sending out a tweet intended for her personal Twitter feed on her employers’ official account is one of my favorite.

A young lady tweeted out: “Ryan found two more 4 bottle packs of Dogfish Head’s Midas Touch beer…. when we drink we do it right #gettngslizzerd.”

The Red Cross could have over reacted in a number of ways, but their common sense and a good dose of good humor prevailed – which won the day for them.

They deleted the tweet and made light of the situation by responding, “We’ve deleted the rogue tweet but rest assured the Red Cross is sober and we’ve confiscated the keys.”  This lighthearted response helped defuse the situation.

The win-win came when Dogfish Head – the beer brand mentioned in the initial tweet, capitalized on the situation – as they should have – and asked their followers to donate to the Red Cross. They also proactively ‘suggested’ to their followers and curious onlookers in the Twitter universe to use the hashtag #gettngslizzerd.”

Humor in a crisis can work but it is situation dependent. It depends on the issue, the brands, their personas and the circumstances leading up to the crisis. However, humor still remains a very risky strategy and tactic and using it incorrectly can backfire and make things worse.

When it comes to communications, it is critical that all employees be aware of their actions and how it can affect the organization’s reputation. Start working today to develop and test a crisis communications plan…because it is better to be prepared than have to scramble during a real crisis.

What is your favorite (mis)communications incident? How did the company handle the  situation?

Post your comments below or join the conversation on LinkedIn.

If your organization is struggling with understand its reputation or other major risks, check out our posts on ways to survive reputation scrutiny and ways to better understand reputation risk for more. And to discuss your organization’s specifically, please feel free to reach out to me anytime.

And please contact Evan if your organization needs some hands-on guidance on crisis communications.

*********************************************************

About Fortress Strategic Communications:

Fortress Strategic Communications provides specialized strategic public relations and crisis communications consulting to companies that offer products, services, and solutions designed to manage and mitigate all types of risk. FSC also provides market specific solutions for data breach events and counsels startups looking to enter the risk management arena. The company draws on their executives’ combined 20 years of global experience in a broad array of vertical markets. For more information please visit www.fortresscomms.com or contact us via info@fortresscomms.com.

Sign Up For Our Newsletter

Sign Up For Our Newsletter

SDS-Logo
about-sidebar-v2

Meet Carol

Helping companies achieve their vision and strategy, and succeeding in today's turbulent world, is something I'm honored to be a part of. Whether you're an occasional blog visitor or a long-term client, thank you for letting us be a part of your journey.

Most Recent Posts

The 12 Days of ERM Christmas

Without a doubt, one of my family’s favorite holidays is Christmas. Part of the fun, especially for our son, is seeing what “Santa” brought, but most importantly, we treasure the spirit of peace and goodwill the season brings. And after what seemed to be a never-ending warm spell, the weather is expected to be good…

Read More

Don’t Let Goals and Initiatives Be Blindsided by External Events

As the end of the year draws near, I think we’d all agree that while it wasn’t without its challenges, this year also wasn’t quite as turbulent as the previous two. While a lot of people are juggling company parties, shopping for friends and family, and special activities for the kids, most companies are putting…

Read More

Going the Distance: Ensuring Successful Execution of Strategic and Annual Initiatives

Strategic planning is a challenge – of all people, I understand… After all the meetings, risk and data analysis, and brainstorming of the preceding months, it’s tempting to think this is the end of the road and you can relax. Contrary to this common perception though, this is exactly not the time to relax, but…

Read More

Avoid Rookie Mistakes and Protect your Internal Reputation

Be honest – have you ever done something that you soon realized was a real rookie mistake? Me raising my hand… Considering the nature of ERM’s role to ask questions and challenge assumptions (often during conversations with executives), it can be argued that, in at least some cases, the expectations bar for risk professionals is…

Read More

ERM at Thanksgiving – An Illustration of Risk Management in Action

On occasion, I like to take some of the concepts we risk professionals think about in our jobs and apply them to different personal situations…take some of the same concepts we use when working with executives to develop corporate strategy and manage risks or uncertainty around that strategy. It’s Thanksgiving week in the U.S. –…

Read More

Why Quantitative Risk Assessment is Not Just the Best But the Only Option – A Conversation

Periodically, I have the pleasure of speaking one-on-one with Hans Læssøe on a variety of topics around ERM, strategic risk, and other issues and trends. As you know from my previous conversations (here, here) and posts featuring his work, Hans was formerly a practitioner at the iconic LEGO Company, but even more notably, is a…

Read More

The Three Lines Model – 3 Reasons Why I Don’t Like It

Everyone likes a clear-cut template that offers an easy way to create or manage something…I mean what’s not to like about a step-by-step process for accomplishing what you want? Sometimes this can work without any issues, such as the case with the Project Management Book of Knowledge (PMBOK), ISO 9001 standard, or a new cooking…

Read More

5 Avenues for Expanding your ERM Knowledge

One thing I was taught to appreciate from a young age was the value of education and knowledge. It didn’t necessarily matter what the subject was, just that I always maintain a learning or growth mindset regardless of my current status in life. This mindset has served me well over the years, and it’s a…

Read More

Storytelling and Risk Management – Developing Skills that Technology Cannot Replace

It’s amazing how technology has developed and changed our working world over time. Imagine trying to run my risk and strategy consulting firm without tools like Zoom, Box, Slack, and other ERM-specific technology tools. There is no way we would be able to serve our clients the way that we do. Just consider how the…

Read More

3 Phases to Creating and Launching an ERM Program Focused on Organizational Success

If you’ve been handed the task of creating an ERM program for your organization, let me first offer my congratulations quickly followed by my empathy for the task ahead of you. I don’t say that to scare you but to provide a small dose of reality. Building, launching, and refining an ERM program that is…

Read More