Widespread Concern Over Recent World Events Highlights Importance of Crisis Communication Plans

Widespread Concern Over Recent World Events Highlights Importance of Crisis Communication Plans

Eileen Petridis   |     October 19, 2023

At home and abroad, the world is on edge. That tension fuels passion that urges people to speak out, whether through peaceful protest, social media debate, heated arguments and so on.

Whether you’re a large corporation, a small nonprofit or a university teeming with students eager to exercise their right to freedom of speech, these events serve as potential threats to the stability and reputation of your organization.

When emotions run high, a heated conversation around the water cooler could quickly turn your otherwise peaceful work environment upside down.

So how prepared are you if a protest or argument on your property escalates?  Would you know how to respond to customers or the media? How would you communicate a sense of calm if an act of worksite violence occurred in your offices? Do you have the right support to make sure your people are taken care of and get the help they need should such a situation take place? What is effective communication during a crisis?

Less than half of CEOs believe their organizations are prepared to deal with an array of potential crises, according to The Conference Board’s C-Suite Outlook 2023. Even for organizations that do have formal emergency communication plans in place, they might be outdated, irrelevant, not detailed enough, or unrealistic given existing in-house resources.

Approaches to crisis management: When is a crisis a crisis?

Who at your organization would have the authority to call a situation a crisis?  And what exactly constitutes a crisis? Is it one student with a bloody nose?  Is it only if you have to call the police? Is it one negative news story? What kind of potential adverse events or issues could pose a threat to your people, brand, reputation, or operations?

Everyone’s threshold for what constitutes a crisis is different. But if you have an event or series of events quickly escalating on your property or involving your people, you have a “situation” on your hands. One that requires skilled handling and thoughtful response - with little time to prepare.

To help you understand your organization’s readiness level, consider your answer to these questions:

  • Who communicates with whom and when throughout the stages of a crisis?
  • Who is ultimately in charge of pulling together all the departments likely to play a role, including security, operations, HR, legal, and communications?
  • Do you have a mechanism that all pertinent parties can use to get quickly updated on the situation, such as a phone number, bridge line, Teams channel or Slack group?
  • Who do you need to notify outside of your organization if the situation turns violent?  Law enforcement? Parents? Customers?  Suppliers trying to bring in necessities? Investors?
  • If – or when – the media trucks start rolling up with their camera lights blazing (or even if bystanders start capturing video footage of the situation on their phones), who at your organization is responsible for crafting the right messaging that communicates you are a caring, proactive, responsible organization that is doing everything right given the situation?
  • Does your organization have a media policy on who should and should not speak to the media? Who is authorized to speak to the media? Is that person trained?
  • Who in your organization needs to draft, review, and approve messaging to your internal and external audiences? How quickly can that be done? 

Even when you’ve emerged from the heat of the moment, what else needs to be done?  Who else requires a phone call or email? Will this affect donors or investors and their confidence in supporting you financially?  Should outside legal counsel be contacted?  If so, when?  How will communications and legal counsel work in tandem to ensure your messaging is caring without implying guilt?

Crisis communications best practices: Creating a culture of neutrality

When it comes to crisis preparedness, the best defense is a good offense.  Unfortunately, avoiding a crisis isn’t always realistic. But there are steps you can take as an organization to help manage risks and cool rising tempers. It starts by stopping those conversations and activities that lend themselves to allowing extreme feelings to percolate. Consider:

  • HR policies: As you’re dusting off that company crisis management plan, you also may want to review relevant personnel policies. Do your policies offer guidance to employees regarding political speech in the workplace or managing conflict?
  • Employee dialogue and support: Are you offering channels for discussion around global events and encouraging them to share their thoughts and concerns? Are you reinforcing your organization’s diversity and inclusion efforts, ensuring all your employees feel valued and heard no matter their ethnicity and background? Are you offering employees opportunities for cross-cultural sensitivity training?
  • Social media: With so much of today’s news communicated through social media, it’s time to pay closer attention to exactly what’s being said on your organization’s own channels. Do you have a social media policy? If so, does it consider employees’ personal social media use?
  • Content and calendar evaluation: You might also want to take another look at what’s on your website, in your eMarketing materials and ads. Have you reviewed current and upcoming marketing campaigns to ensure they align with your organization’s stance on current events? Are there images or text that were appropriate a month ago that may be especially sensitive given events today?

There’s no such thing as being too prepared

No organization hit with a crisis ever said it wished it would not have spent so much time planning or preparing. Especially in today’s political environment — at home and abroad — you must assume you are vulnerable. That makes this an ideal time to revisit existing plans and create new ones while objectively assessing your in-house capabilities and need for outside help.

If you’d like to learn more about how Falls & Co can help you prepare for issues and manage crisis communications, we’d love to hear from you.

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Eileen Petridis

Eileen Petridis is a senior vice president at Falls & Co. and regularly supports the agency’s crisis and reputation management team.