Crisis Communications: Do you need to know about it in the PR industry?
A crisis is defined as “any situation that is threatening or could threaten to harm people or property, seriously interrupt business, significantly damage reputation and/or negatively impact the bottom line” (Bernstein, 2015).
Every brand, business and company is vulnerable to a crisis occurring, whether it is handled correctly is another matter. Crisis management and crisis communications should be an integral part of any organisation to make sure that when an issue arises, it is dealt with immediately and in the best way possible.
I first came across crisis communications and management in an assignment late last year when I was looking at the Tesco horsemeat scandal. It really interested me how professionals in the PR industry provide effective communications to stakeholders when a crisis occurs.
Last week, I took part in the university’s annual crisis simulation: Solent in Crisis. I was really excited to see how theory could influence actions throughout the day and put my knowledge into action (as well as learning throughout). It started with a guest talk from Martyna Stepien who is a Solent Alumni and a previous crisis simulation day participant. It was great to get some tips and advice from her before getting into the crisis.
It was pretty calm to begin with; having to make materials for an awards ceremony that was taking place in our made up university ‘Telson’. Little did we know what was about to unravel throughout the day (I underestimated how stressful and fast-paced a crisis could be)!
Our crisis was revealed and it was full-speed ahead making a range of materials that would address the crisis (press releases, vice-chancellor statements, responding to social media posts). In our team of seven we made sure to split these tasks up so everyone was doing something useful and so each task would be completed in time for the next step of the crisis to arise.
During our day, we had a visit from Solent’s own chancellor Theo Paphitis, we had the chance to tell him what we were doing and speak to him about what to do in a crisis. To be honest, I was stressing a little about not making all our materials in time, but then realised how good of an opportunity this was to be taking part in.
It got to the end of the day and we did our little reflective presentations in front of everyone. We identified our main objective of the whole communication strategy as being: honest and transparent with everyone, but making sure that public safety is number one priority. We discussed how we realised during the day that the crisis needed to be posted about to the public so that they had some knowledge, but not the reveal all the details as this would cause panic and make the situation more of a crisis.
The group I was in won the whole day (which was an added bonus), and it made me feel like I had really achieved something considering I was a complete novice of crisis communications before this day. It turned out that the judges (lecturers) really liked our communication materials and thought they were produced to a good standard.
I thoroughly enjoyed the Crisis Simulation day and would definitely consider this as a career path as I know it would be exciting and changing every day. The top things I learnt and took out from the day were:
1. The speed of information getting around stakeholders/the public
2. Transparency and honesty needed throughout communications
3. Thinking of the crisis and the communications as a process and working through it
Personally, I think that every organisation needs to educate its employees about crisis management – even if it’s only a basic lesson. This could potentially stop employees panicking when a crisis arises and putting out materials that make the situation worse for the company (thus damaging the reputation).
A massive thank you to Lynsey Watt for organising the day – I definitely found learning in a real life situation easier than learning from a textbook.
Till next time xo
BERNSTEIN, J., 2015. The 10 Steps of Crisis Communications. Available from https://www.bernsteincrisismanagement.com/the-10-steps-of-crisis-communications/[Accessed: 5/3/19]