Facing a crisis or reputational issue can be the ultimate test of a communication professional's strategic thinking, agility, temperament and creativity. In the latest IABC Master Class series on crisis communications, Clare Gleghorn, chief executive officer at Bastion Reputation, presents a detailed and enlightening exploration of three key principles to elevate your value as a trusted advisor to your organization's leadership:
- Knowing the basic rules of the game
- Knowing the people involved and their reactions
- Knowing the options to execute your plans
Gleghorn describes a crisis as an event or period of time that creates a highly unstable, disruptive, or dangerous situation affecting an individual, group, or all of society that requires immediate attention to resolve beyond normal operations. However, crises can vary widely in their timing, intensity and longevity.
Planning or preparing for a crisis involves a broad-based team representing risk management, legal, compliance, finance, IT and others. Communications is a critical member of that team.
Once a crisis event hits, there are two critical stages of response for the communication team in the first 15 minutes and the first 30 minutes:
First 15 Minutes
First 30 Minutes
Create initial checklist of first steps and gather the facts.
Create principles that hold everyone to account and maintain focus.
Assemble the right team.
Engage in scenario planning about what could happen next.
Determine the holding position.
Establish timing and tone to keep the moral high ground and find calm.
Listen (impacts and feedback).
Have a communication plan template ready and use it.
A critical aspect to managing the crisis communication function and providing effective counsel to leadership is understanding different personality types and how they might react and respond to a crisis. Stress is an immediate outcome of any crisis and it's important to recognize that there are many kinds of behavioral, emotional, physical, cognitive and social responses people have to crises.
Once you acknowledge this, you can better:
- Manage Yourself: Managing your own response to a crisis begins with understanding the crisis style that best defines you. Are you:
- Calm, considered, in control?
- Quick thinking and efficient?
- Detail-oriented and diligent?
- A big-picture strategist?
- Or, empathetic and caring?
- Manage Others: Understand why your leaders act a certain way so you can help them be more effective by emanating calm, delivering confidence, creating clarity, de-escalating misguided outrage and presenting a trusted, human face of the organization. Once you understand the pressures they face, along with their responses, you can take steps to build trust with those you counsel and know when to push your point and respond to their pushback.
- Know Your Audience: Don't limit yourself to your immediate target audience. Consider how the issue will flow to other audiences who can have influence or have other interests (e.g., regulators). Then, consider what you want them to think, feel and do (or not do).
Gleghorn also focuses on critical digital and social media techniques and tools, which are especially vital to addressing the challenge of our modern communications environment and the rise of many truths caused by:
- Demise of traditional media/localized media
- Rise of celebrity journalists — injecting themselves into the story, often with their own agendas and personal beliefs
- My belief or opinion = your credible fact
- Outrage as the new default — we’re naturally very angry
- Rise of citizen journalism — we have platforms to act as journalists
- Artificial intelligence, bots and algorithms driving crisis and media cycles
- Rise of extremism and special interests as major influence
She concludes the series with the important topic of reputation recovery, including the need for organizations to earn their recovery. This starts with knowing the expectation of those who matter most to the organization and its brand. Steps include demonstrating contrition, accountability and investigation.
The three sessions in this master class are packed with many practical applications of the principles covered, and details such as how to build and use an effective holding statement. The series offers a wealth of knowledge, whether you’ve yet to experience your first crisis or are a seasoned pro.
Interested in learning more? Purchase the recording on IABC Advance and take the first step in preparing yourself and your organization for the next crisis.
Joe Bobbey is a member of the IABC Professional Development and Content Committee and board member of the Greater Cincinnati chapter. He recently retired as a change management consultant.