There’s no question that people under extreme duress act in ways that dumbfound the public, surprise the media and seem generally out of character. It could be because the instincts at play during times of stress or crisis are closely tied to a less-evolved version of the human mind. This physiological reaction is referred to as the fight-or-flight response.
This response, hard-wired into our brains, is designed to protect us when we experience trauma or possible danger. Oftentimes when faced with an unexpected crisis, people either get defensive (fight) or bury their heads in the sand (flight).
However, during a communications crisis, leadership needs to be able to tap into a more evolved, strategic approach when dealing with complex issues. Organizations should be wary of how the natural urge to either fight or flee can negatively impact their objectivity, response strategy, and ultimately their bottom line.
In any crisis, time is always of the essence and when the media get involved, deadlines are usually tight. So how do you ensure that you not only weather the storm, but communicate your message effectively? By preparing ahead of time.
Studies indicate that organizations that prepare for PR crises in advance actually experience fewer issues and recover more quickly. We’ve outlined some quick tips to anticipate and prepare for potential PR issues before they happen:
Brainstorm every crisis your organization would most likely encounter. According to recent surveys, 49% of business decision-makers across the globe believe social media has made their company more vulnerable to a crisis and 79% expect to experience a crisis within the next year. However only half of them reported that their companies have a crisis communications plan. What issues have you faced in the past? What factors do you think could make your organization liable for a crisis? Start your planning based off of the issues that are likely to happen and that would have the highest impact on your organization.
Have a plan in place. Have your crisis response team assembled ahead of time. Involve public relations staff, executive spokespeople, board members (if need be), legal, etc. Too many cooks in the kitchen always complicates a crisis so have your team assembled before one strikes.
Practice how you will implement the plans. Consider investing in crisis scenario training, or creating a dark website ahead of time where your stakeholders can find FAQs, official statements, among other resources.
Develop messages ahead of time. While you can’t specifically predict what your crisis could look like, create basic, adaptable messages for social media, blogs, traditional media, and website that address common issues without fueling the fire. Make sure your proof points are quickly accessible, in case a reporter asks you to back up or prove any of your assertions.
Bottom line? Crises are always stressful, but preparing ahead of time will help reduce that panicky feeling. People under emotional stress oftentimes make devastatingly bad decisions, which is why it’s essential to anticipate crises before they happen.
We teamed up with a Psychology Ph.D. at George Washington University, to break down this effect and its implications. Check out our discussion below: