It is often difficult to know which of the multitude of issues that arise during a crisis should be tackled first. However, one aspect which is crucial and cannot be ignored is effective external communication. This should include considering how best to manage the constant enquiries, calls and emails from press, concerned members of the public, and consumer bodies, as well as communication from investigators or regulators. This will involve thinking about what information can be provided, when, and the best way to do so. The right choice of words or phrases can be vital in conveying the correct message.

Common ways in which organisations fail to manage communication effectively include:

  • A lack of transparency in addressing the problem which caused the crisis in the first place.
  • A perceived failure to apologise and to express sympathy or regret to those affected.
  • A failure to acknowledge responsibility if their organisation actually caused the crisis in the first place.
  • A general lack of communication or dissemination of information.

In today’s climate of increased use of social media, it can also be all too easy to communicate but in the wrong way. With increasing numbers of people turning to social media for news, organisations need to be cautious. There are risks in employees tweeting or posting comments which may result in information being communicated in a manner which is contrary to an organisation’s carefully designed communication plan. There have been a number of high profile companies which have recently been compromised in this way. Reputational damage from these types of situations can be long-lasting and should not be underestimated.

While it is impossible to plan for every eventuality, it is sensible to plan for public statements given their importance. There are numerous practical points that an organisation can consider before a crisis emerges. These include having a tight knit team deal specifically with public statements and the press; putting in place clearly delineated lines of communication; implementing a social media policy applicable to all members of staff; and enforcing a robust take down mechanism. Measures such as these can help organisations to be ready to communicate during a crisis and hopefully avoid becoming the next big name casualty to face a media backlash.