A diverse group of people in an office gather around a laptop with worried looks on their faces.
One key to managing crises is having a designated crisis management team made up of trusted individuals. — Getty Images/Ridofranz

Having a crisis communication strategy is essential in today’s highly connected world, where a public relations disaster could be just one social media post away. According to research by PWC, nearly 69% of leaders have experienced at least one corporate crisis from 2014 to 2019, with an average of three crises per company.

While some PR crises are avoidable, these situations can often happen outside of a brand’s control, so it’s important to have a plan for managing them.

“In the 24-hour media world, the question is no longer will you face a crisis but when will you face one?” said Josh Wilson, a publicist at Otter Public Relations. “Your ability to navigate a crisis successfully will have everything to do with how well you have planned and the people you place on your crisis team.”

Here’s what you need to know about crisis communication management, including some best practices to follow as a small business owner.

[Read more: How to Promote Your Business on Instagram During a Crisis]

What is crisis communication?

Crisis communication is the strategy and execution of communication between an entity and its stakeholders before, during and after a negative event. Many think that crisis communication is reactive, but managing a crisis properly also requires a proactive process of constantly updating materials, messages and distribution channels to mitigate confusion, outrage or panic if and when a crisis occurs. If planned and executed correctly, a good crisis management strategy can save a company’s reputation.

In the 24-hour media world, the question is no longer will you face a crisis but when will you face one?

Josh Wilson, publicist at Otter Public Relations

Best practices for crisis communication

Develop a plan before you need it

According to Wilson, the No. 1 crisis communication mistake small businesses make is failing to plan. A crisis communication plan acts as a blueprint for leaders to guide their company through any negative situation.

“The best way to plan is to actually take a potential crisis and map out how you would respond,” Wilson told CO—. “Outline every step you would take to handle the problem from start to finish and both internally and externally. Having clear, written guidelines for your company and its employees are important.”

Respond in a timely manner

While you don’t want to make any rash, emotionally charged statements that haven’t been thought through, it is important to develop a message to address a crisis as soon as possible after it occurs.

“When a crisis strikes, it is important to have a timely response,” Wilson said. “Make sure that you take time to research the crisis and develop a clear plan for managing it.”

Having a plan in place will help with timely communication — as would a dedicated crisis management team.

Delegate responsibilities and minimize miscommunication

Leaders can easily get overwhelmed during a crisis, said Wilson, which is why it’s important to delegate the execution of your crisis communication plan.

“Make sure you delegate key responsibilities to a small, trusted group of people,” he added.

As you delegate, appoint one person to be the consistent voice who speaks on behalf of your company throughout the crisis, rather than several different people attempting to be spokespeople, Wilson said.

[Read more: How to Use Facebook to Connect with Your Customers in Times of Crisis]

Consult legal and crisis management professionals

Trying to handle a crisis on your own may land you in some legal trouble, so it’s wise to have a legal professional on standby before you issue any communications to the public.

“Leaders should never tackle a crisis without having solid advice from a legal team,” Wilson said. “Every crisis team should consult with a lawyer to make sure you are not making the problem worse with your response.”

Wilson also advised seeking professional help from seasoned crisis managers, who can help make sure you and your team are ready when a situation arises.

Prioritize your team

It’s easy to devote all your attention to the media or external stakeholders during a crisis, but you should also ensure you’re communicating with your internal team, said Wilson. Your employees should be prioritized during a crisis, he said, as they can become extremely powerful messengers for you.

“Make sure your employees feel safe, valued and informed,” Wilson explained. “Trust is key during difficult situations and you must maintain the trust of your employees. Complete transparency in your organization prevents finger-pointing during a crisis.”

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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CO—is committed to helping you start, run and grow your small business. Learn more about the benefits of small business membership in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, here.

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Published January 27, 2022