The aftermath of a crisis leaves brands in a vulnerable position. Companies desperately seek to mend their damaged situation. In such cases, leaders can employ a two-pronged approach to rebuilding and repairing to (re)earn consumer trust.
Prong 1: Create a compelling narrative that addresses the crisis.
As the old saying goes, you can’t see the forest from the trees.
Third parties, like a PR or communications agency, are effective in helping craft compelling stories because they can see the situation from an outside perspective.
There are many truths to a situation, and crisis communications involve expressing the facts in a balanced, straightforward way that requires a blend of strategy, patience, and unshakable honesty.
Prong 2: Over-communication is a wise practice.
Amplify your company’s narrative with unwavering consistency, and reassure all stakeholders.
Most importantly, brands need to be transparent to earn (or re-earn) trust. Embracing an empathetic voice and strategy will be beneficial to organizations in a time of crisis.
The Essentialness of Empathy and Transparency in Crisis Communications
Empathy and transparency are the foundations of trust in any relationship, whether interpersonal or between a brand and its customers. These traits are pivotal in crisis communications because leaders need to showcase their deep human characteristics. When leaders act and communicate with ingenuity, audiences are more receptive to the messaging.
Studies show that people are more likely to forgive wrongdoers when they empathize with them, meaning empathy can help minimize reputational damage.
Transparency is also core to managing crisis communications. Mark Twain said, “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.”
In crisis communications, this wisdom holds true. As chaos unfolds, managing all the moving pieces is difficult. Rather than sugarcoat or use euphemisms in communications, simply be transparent.
A brand’s confidence and competence are demonstrated by being open, honest, and accountable in a timely fashion. In the long term, this will benefit the brand because a track record of transparency means that the organization can be trusted.
Another way to help stakeholders feel they can trust your company again? Empathy. It helps reduce panic and encourage understanding on behalf of all parties involved. By actively listening to affected entities, acknowledging concerns, offering flexible solutions, and communicating the willingness to grow, organizations can foster a sense of partnership and collaboration. This approach not only aids in mending strained relationships but also positions the organization as responsible and responsive, thereby rebuilding trust and credibility in the long term.
Preparation is Key
Rather than consider crisis communications for the first time amid a crisis, enact a crisis communications plan before a crisis strikes. Being proactive in this sense and assembling a task force like a crisis management team can significantly help lessen the crisis’s impact.
When leadership is included in a crisis management team, as well as a spokesperson and backend operator, brands can gracefully and dynamically navigate the crisis.
They know where to go and ideally already have media relationships that can help swiftly respond to the crisis at hand. That is why at Zen Media, we recommend that organizations have contact lists containing media contacts, agencies, and even government officials who can assist when things do not go according to plan.
High-level leaders know from experience that there is no certainty and there are no guarantees, but there are ways to be prepared. Brands can even run test scenarios that help ensure that plans are effective and help identify which documents and processes need to be readily available in a crisis.
Proactive PR Can Help
Proactive PR allows brands to take control of their narrative and communicate their message in a deliberate, planned manner. This means identifying and pursuing opportunities for media coverage, such as press releases, speaking engagements, and thought leadership, to establish the brand’s voice, build relationships, and establish credibility rather than having to prove it in the event of a crisis.
Think about it this way. A small business will fear a bad review if it doesn’t already have good reviews. The idea is to bolster the brand with good media (like good reviews) so that in the event of things not going according to plan, there’s already a plethora of information on the internet that validates the brand’s reputation and place in the market.
Reactive PR is Also Necessary
Reactive PR involves responding swiftly and strategically to current events, breaking news, or trending topics to enhance brand visibility and manage public perception. In the wake of a crisis, an organization well-versed in reactive PR can seamlessly engage with the media thanks to pre-established relationships with journalists and media outlets. These connections allow for the rapid dissemination of the organization’s perspective or response, bypassing the usual delays of story pitching and validation.
Such relationships mean the organization is often given the benefit of the doubt; the need for extensive proof or documentation is minimized since trust and credibility have been established beforehand.
Reactive PR allows for prompt and effective communication, essential in controlling the narrative during a crisis. It’s not just about pushing out a message but doing so in a way that resonates with the public and aligns with the organization’s core values and long-term objectives. This approach helps not only address the immediate crisis but also reinforces the organization’s reputation and reliability in the public eye.
At Zen Media, we are grateful for long-standing relationships with the media that allow us to support our clients’ crisis communications plans.
Keep Communication Clear and Open
Handling a PR crisis can be a special kind of nightmare, so be sure to follow the same principles you might follow when you get into a tough situation with a loved one.
Share information openly and constantly update the team and affected parties. If the organization is waiting for an answer or waiting to take action, those are things to share.
Zen Media expertly knows how to guide and communicate with stakeholders during a crisis. This requires careful monitoring of the media and delicately managing messaging.
Provide updates at expected times; for example, daily at the onset of a crisis and weekly as it fizzles out. The point is that affected parties should know what to anticipate and when to expect it.
Honesty throughout and intentions as to how to move forward are critical. Those awaiting updates and communications should be pleasantly surprised by an organization’s organized, empathetic, and transparent approach because that will permit long-term success.
It is always darkest before dawn, and organizations can turn a crisis into an opportunity for rebirth and reaffirming their commitment as a company.
Don’t dwell on the crisis, nor allow the organization to fall into a frenzy that reveals disorganization or doom. Do the opposite.
When leaders and communications teams take the crisis in stride, other team members and affected parties will also be inclined to embrace an optimistic mindset and move forward in a positive direction.
This can encourage stakeholders’ confidence in the brand and their investment in the company’s overall success.
By being prepared in advance, having PR relationships, and confidently handling the crisis, the crisis can dissipate and eventually be viewed as a growing experience.