Let’s talk about crisis communications. Pre-pandemic, it was the bastion of very large enterprise, with trained teams of PR leaders to man the desk.
Post-pandemic, crisis communication is much more mainstream. One reason is greater consciousness that’s in progress – making us as humans more aware of social justice and how we can contribute to it.
Over 2020/21 we spoke to many businesses about crisis communication. Brands struggled to find their voice in the face of the murder of George Floyd and the moment of the ‘Black Lives Matter’ Movement in 2020. Closer to home, we had the unearthing of the graves of murdered children in the residential school system in Canada. Plus many other localized and business/market specific issues that we’ve each had to communicate through.
What do you do as a business?
If you decide to speak, how do you not say the wrong thing?
Is it even possible to always be prepared to step in with the perfect statement in response to something?
The questions are heavy.
Maybe you have a crisis communication plan.
Maybe there’s even 12 scenarios that you’ve planned for, and documented in detail.
That’s still not going stop you from being inadvertently tone deaf if something comes into play that’s well outside of your lived experience and frame of reference.
You need to be prepared to make sound decisions in the moment.
Remember, there’s really only a couple of non-negotiables.
Two key concepts 👇
Master the idea of “Stop, drop and roll”
When something that requires sensitivity hits the news cycles, whether it’s a major issue that affects the world at large (ie: pandemic), or something that affects your company (ie: announcements of layoffs), you want to think like you’re catching fire. To contain it, you stop, drop and roll.
The first step is to “stop”
You don’t have to know the answer to all problems instantly. And even if you do, for large enterprises, it’s not always easy to mobilize in a few hours, or even a day or two.
So, start by taking a pause.
Stop your automation, audit what you’re doing and see if anything is tone deaf.
One key reason we tell brands to stop in moments of crisis is to avoid cluttering the news cycles. If each brand self-regulates and holds off on making our offers/discussing the brilliance of our product maybe we’ll create more space for issue? Nobody needs to be distracted from major issues that impact society.
The second step is “drop”.
Consider this the assessment phase. Here’s where you strategize and figure out how to move forward.
The simplest way is to look around you at what the leaders of industry, and the marketing gurus are saying. But in “unprecedented times” (we said it!) often not even your industry or competition knows what to say and you may very well need to be leading your category.
Allow these questions to guide you
- Should my brand be saying anything?
- Is it appropriate to continue to communicate privately with our stakeholders – customized funnels, clients, emails?
- Is it appropriate to communicate publicly without acknowledging the issue at hand?
- If we’re not making public statements and continuing with business as before, is there a need to take a stance on the issue? Perhaps by spotlighting other people who are saying something well?
Step three: how are we going to “roll”?
Once you’ve looked at what you were going to put out, be sure to triple check the messaging. Maybe you need to tweak the tone of the copy you’ve written? Now’s the time for that.
Seek knowledgeable stakeholders.
If there’s something you’re not sure about, that’s when you reach out to people who can help. It could be customers, agencies, your own team, industry cohorts. Solicit advice from people who have navigated crises well.
And remember these 3 things while communicating your message
- Once you’ve done your assessment, picked your braid voice, fine-tuned your message and decided to deploy it, do it with confidence and conviction.
- Not every belief system needs to be a big manifesto that you put out on the subject on social media. Often it’s making sure you have the right talking points to talk to people on a day to day basis in your business.
- If you’re an ally, be a strong one. If the issue is Anti-Black racism at play, and you are white boss or peer, instead of staying silent, see if there’s a way you can amplify messaging and spotlight learning on the subject.
Master a graceful apology
Despite your best efforts, and despite multiple plans, you’re going to get some things wrong, And when you get things wrong, the best course is a good apology.
What does a good apology look like?
Not: “I’m sorry, but….”
Just straight up: “I’m sorry”
However tempted you are to explain your actions, don’t. Even in your daily life it’s so tempting to say “I’m sorry but let me explain why I thought this/said that…” We tend to have a need to over-explain. Remember that it is self indulgent. That amounts to you saying “I think I’m a good person. And that is more important than the issue we’re discussing.”
Once you’ve apologized, say how you plan to correct the issue (whether it is your fault or not). And follow through.
It’s that simple.
If you’d like to chat more about your marketing concerns (or any of your content!), please give us a shout at C+P Digital – we would love to help!
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And as always, sweet dreams😴…well, hopefully!