A crisis can happen at any time.
For communicators, if caught off guard, it could mean a scramble to control the scenario and a delayed action to connect clearly with respective stakeholders. It may be a daunting task, including for leadership assigned to speak on the issue, but once a strategy is in place some of these scenarios can be handled successfully with care.
At a recently held crisis management workshop hosted by Reputation Management Caribbean, managing director Lisa Ann Joseph gave this reassurance to participants. But she also stressed that planning and preparation make the difference between a company sinking or keeping afloat.
Held at Queen’s Hall, St Ann’s, the two-day session was meant to give communications professionals as well as company executives the necessary tools to recognise a smouldering issue and how to deal with it when the fire has spread.
“There is this belief that communications managers have this magic wand to make things disappear,” said Joseph to the participants.
“You are left to quell a situation and you don’t have the support to deal with it. There is the assumption that once you are in the communications position, you can manage. But it takes many cogs in order to have the communications machinery moving.”
An unexpected disruption in an organisation's operations can adversely impact employees, investors, suppliers and other publics as well as assets and bottom line. But, above all, reputation of an organisation and leadership credibility are at stake.
“The goal is to get the crisis under control as quickly and effectively as possible,” Joseph advised. Or as local parlance would have it – take in front, before in front take you.
On the checklist should be crisis contingency planning, which includes strong internal and external communications, said Joseph.
“Flexibility is key,” she said. “Although the focus may be on the scenario, there must be some room for adjustment.”
The second day of the workshop was dedicated to placing the participants in the “hot seat” as they went through the rigours of being interviewed by veteran journalist Tony Fraser.
Fraser pointed out that an eloquent speaker should not make the assumption that there is no need to practise for an interview.
“You don’t know how the interviewer will angle the conversation,” Fraser said. “The communications person or company representative must be prepared to hold on to their messaging, to temper the conversation while the other person may be assertive in questioning, to explain clearly what he or she is trying to say.”
While the communications manager or company representative may understand the current scenario from a corporate, or, a technical perspective, it is necessary to share this information in relatable terms with the public.
“Keep in mind that the public will not understand,” Fraser told the participants.
“It is best to keep it as simple as possible. They are your audience and you want them to have proper insight and make a fair judgment.”
At the end of the two-day workshop, certificates of participation were distributed. Some of the participants left the workshop with a better understanding of dealing face to face with a crisis. The challenge, most agreed, is not walking away from it but finding ways to share the ideal messaging. But as Joseph said, even that requires guidance as well as practice and not a spur of the moment response.