5 Crisis Communications Strategies That Work

A photo of a man surrounded by TV reporters at a news conference.
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Whether you work for a media company, an airport, a theme park or a school, you'll undoubtedly be faced with a crisis at some time. The crisis communications decisions you make can help you survive the turmoil, or if you're not careful, they can cause lasting damage to your brand.

While it's impossible to predict the exact nature of the crisis you may encounter, you must plan ahead for that day that a tornado hits, a plane crashes or a gunman comes onto your property.

These 5 crisis communications strategies will help you protect your brand.

Forge Positive Relationships With the Media

When disaster strikes, your local news reporters will be first on the scene. Likely, they'll be hitting the air with ‚Äčlive news reports before you even have a chance to know what's happening.

Knowing these reporters personally will go a long way toward getting fair coverage in a breaking news situation. You can do that by doing stories with these reporters long before the crisis erupts. Maybe you've been a guest on their talk show or given them a tour of your facility. Being on a first-name basis with these people will pay dividends for you. It also helps to have a professional relationship with the editor or news director, because that's the person in charge of the coverage back in the newsroom.

If your crisis is large enough to bring out the national media, you need to manage these news crews differently.

They don't know you, care about your town and won't mind stepping on toes to get the story as they see it. Avoid making the mistake of catering to every whim of the national media while ignoring your local media. The national media won't treat you any better and the local media outlets will be covering this story long after the national press flies back to New York or Washington.

Establish Your Authority Early in the Crisis

Usually, a crisis happens at the worst possible time, like a holiday weekend when the usual chain of command is on vacation. If you're alone in managing the aftermath, make contact with news outlets as quickly as possible.

All you're required to do initially is to tell people your name, your title, assure them that you are gathering information and will be distributing it in a reasonable amount of time. If you can't set a time for a news conference, tell them to watch for updates via Twitter or other social media platform.

Ignoring this step will have reporters assuming that no one is in charge. If they say that to the public, you could bring long-term damage to your company's brand. You want to put yourself in command of the crisis from the outset, even if you aren't yet ready to speak publicly about what happened.

Provide Accurate Information in Measured Steps

Once you have a firm grasp of the facts, you'll want to hold a news conference or issue a press release. The first step is to give the news media time to prepare to receive it. Tweeting that a news conference will start in ten minutes doesn't give everyone time to get there. News reporters will be frustrated, which means they could lash out at you when you already have enough worries.

Announce at the start of the news conference whether you'll be accepting questions afterward. That way there's no ugly surprise if you walk out of the room after your statement. Explain why you can't take questions at this point. Ideally, you can promise to take questions later. But make sure to keep any promise you make.

Be mindful of the deadlines facing news reporters. Even with the 24/7 cycle in which newsrooms operate, reporters want fresh information for the 6 p.m. newscast, then more for the late news. Consider withholding some information so you have something to tell them later. You can help your brand by appearing to have a constant flow of new facts to deliver in regular increments.

Do Everything You Can to Stop Speculation

Reporters who don't get facts tend to start guessing at what may have happened.

While you may know the difference between news analysis and opinion, they likely don't. They're just filling time on the air or posting anything to keep their Facebook page fresh.

Speculation that turns out to be wrong makes for a clean-up job for you. At a news conference or during interviews, don't allow yourself to get caught up in a sea of "what if" questions. Cut off this questioning politely, but decisively.

Facts are your best weapon. If you manage your facts and disseminate them in a regular, timed fashion, reporters who are starving for new information will get it before they have a chance to let their mind wander.

Continue Managing the Story After The Crisis Ends

Depending on the crisis, there might be a long-term investigation involved. That could last for months after the original crisis passes. But it still requires your management.

Stay on top of developments and release findings to the news outlets before they have a chance to discover this information on their own. That way, you can help explain the information and minimize the negative effects it might have to your brand.

Expect reporters to be back on your doorstep six months, one year, even five years after the event. They will likely ask, "What have you learned and changed since the crisis happened?" Be ready with meaningful answers that will put your company in a positive light. You might want to schedule a news conference or tour if you have a good "show and tell" story that reporters can relay to your customers.