The crisis surrounding the massive college admissions scandal has rocked our nation. Following a year-long investigation into a college admissions scam, Hollywood actresses Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman, and other prominent figures were charged with fraud.
Some of the allegations involved helping parents with kids that were likely ineligible for admissions to top-tier schools. Through huge payouts, standardized test scores were rigged, and college coaches and other university insiders received bribes. After the scandal broke, heated discussions ensued on social media with most of the ridiculing directed toward the celebrity parents. However, many have pondered the question: how will these elite universities handle the backlash?
It is tough for companies of any size to anticipate a crisis, but every organization is vulnerable to having them. A crisis situation could strike at any moment, and while it may not require a team going into full panic mode, it takes only one poorly handled public relations crisis to ruin an organization’s reputation.
That said, a company can always communicate a crisis to internal and external stakeholders. Not offering an appropriate and timely response can suggest that the company is inept or in some cases, criminally negligent. The outcome could ultimately affect the company’s bottom line.
In my years of working in public relations, it has always been necessary to rely on a crisis communication plan. Some of you may wonder what exactly is a crisis communication plan? Well, it’s a plan that outlines the process that an organization uses to respond to a critical situation that could negatively affect its reputation and profitability. Most importantly, it allows a company to have the first line of responses and plan of action prepared.
Here are a few of my suggestions, when establishing a crisis communication plan.
Anticipate a Crisis
Look at all possible ways a crisis could take form in your line of business or industry. This critical situation could result from a faulty product, embezzlement, social media snafu, a customer’s grievance handled improperly or even worse an incident that caused a fatality.
Assemble a Team
Assemble a crisis communications team comprised of senior officials from your company.
Identify a Spokesperson
Identify a member of your staff as a spokesperson. This person should feel comfortable talking with members of the press while under pressure.
Prepare Holding Statements
These statements are prepared in advance for your organization’s initial response. It buys crucial time for an organization to assess the situation and issue something later in greater detail.
You want to monitor your media mention. While Google alert is free, there are other more efficient tracking systems available.
Have a Digital and Social Strategy in Place
Your social strategy for reaching your stakeholders should encompass social media. Updates should be made regularly to the website’s newsroom.
Understand Your Target Audience
Identify and know your audience and the most effective way to communicate with them.
Update your Contact List
Have an accessible internal stakeholders’ contact list that is updated regularly.
Choose a location to Hold a Press Conference
This might not seem important, but the last thing you want to worry about during a crisis is where to hold a press conference in a room that has functioning electrical outlets.
Hire an Outside Public Relations Agency
If your company is incapable of handling a response of a crisis situation, you may want to consider hiring a PR agency. You don’t want the situation to spiral out of control.
It is important for a team to meet and discuss how things could have been done better with the handling of the communication response. Did the company’s message align with its mission or reach its internal and external audience in an effective manner? Did your company’s representative commit to making internal policy changes, and if so, how soon will those changes take effect.
Responding to a critical situation can be stressful for any team, but knowing that the appropriate tools are in place and your team is taking the right steps by reacting accordingly brings much-added value to a company’s reputation.
Olivia Almagro is a business adjunct professor and public relations consultant and principal owner of O+Media Group, LLC. www.oplusmediagroup.com