A quartet of people in businesswear clusters around a table scattered with binders, coffee mugs, and office supplies. From left to right, the people are a seated man in a light blue button-up shirt and a tie, a standing man in a white button-up shirt and khakis, a woman sitting in front of an open laptop and wearing a white blouse, and a seated silver-haired woman holding a pair of red-framed glasses and wearing a dark blue blouse.
No matter what crisis your company is going through, make sure you keep your team apprised of any steps they need to (or shouldn't) take. — Getty Images/pixelfit

Crisis public relations is a skill you hope to never need, but it’s a great one to have in the unfortunate event that something goes wrong. Whether you need to inform customers of a data breach, poor customer service, a price hike, or some other brand-damaging event, here are some tips for navigating communications during a crisis.

Address the crisis head-on

Each crisis has unique circumstances, but generally speaking, it’s best to confront the situation head-on. Communicate to customers and the media about what happened, why it happened, and how you are approaching a solution to the issue.

“The guiding principle for handling such crises is telling the truth,” wrote Investopedia. “State publicly only what is known, just the facts. Do not make statements that assume, guess, or speculate on any aspect of the crisis.”

Stick to telling the truth authentically, and only focus on things you know with 100% certainty at any given moment. Keep in mind that if you decide to conceal information, this could backfire if a journalist decides to do a little digging. It’s important to appear competent and truthful when you speak to customers.

Consider engaging a PR firm

It’s helpful to have a single representative to communicate to the press and the public. Often, this could be you, the business owner, or someone you’ve hired to help you manage the crisis. A crisis PR firm can be worth the investment, depending on the severity of the situation.

“Crisis PR firms react with lightning speed to take charge of a scenario that could damage a business’s reputation if the narrative is allowed to move forward unchecked,” wrote Forbes. “Crisis communications experts work quickly to take control of the narrative and shape it in the most favorable light.”

When should you engage a professional crisis PR firm? Usually, crisis PR firms are best utilized early in an emergency situation. A data breach, a product flaw, or a lawsuit can all be instances in which it helps to have a team to help you figure out how to handle the situation moving forward.

[Read more: 7 Things to Know When Hiring a PR Firm]

Speak to legal counsel

Before you say anything, make sure you consult a lawyer to make sure all legal aspects of the crisis are considered. If there are insurance issues, a theft investigation, a potential lawsuit, or contract discrepancies, you’ll want to issue a “no comment” statement to the media until your attorney deems it safe to communicate transparently.

Your communications need to be backed by action and commitment to follow through

Bruce M. Hennes, The National Law Review

Use social media wisely

It will be important to issue a public statement in the form of a blog post or press release. You may also want to hold a press conference with local media outlets. As you begin to share information, be thoughtful about how you use social media to deal with the situation.

News travels fast on social media, and therefore you’ll want a plan for managing the spread of information about your crisis. Here are some tips for managing communication on your social media channels:

  • Create a social media policy for your employees. Provide talking points for team members so they know how to respond to questions or comments on their own pages.
  • Pause any upcoming posts. If you use a scheduling tool to pre-schedule your social media posts, make sure to turn it off. This will keep any unrelated updates from muddying the conversation.
  • Assign a team to monitor posts. It can be helpful to have a person or team of people running point to respond to comments or questions as they pop up on your pages. This can also help dispel the threat of dis- and misinformation.

Stick to only posting credible, up-to-date, and honest information on your social media pages. And, if you do have a press release, redirect people to that statement for full information.

Make an action plan

“Finally, remember: you can’t talk your way out of a crisis. Your communications need to be backed by action and commitment to follow through,” wrote the National Law Review.

Customers will be anxious to hear what you plan to do to resolve the crisis. Put yourself in their shoes: What can you do to support them during this difficult time? Will you offer refunds, recall a product, or provide discounts or gift cards to rebuild customer loyalty?

[Read more: 5 Crisis Communication Best Practices Every Small Business Should Know]

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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