GUEST ARTICLE: Crisis communication: Planning for the worst; hoping for the best

GUEST ARTICLE: Crisis communication: Planning for the worst; hoping for the best

When a catastrophe hits, crisis communication becomes the lifeblood of the brand.

Jayatri Dasgupta

Mumbai: Few situations test an organisation’s reputation as brutally as a crisis. Corporations and crises go hand-in-hand. Whether the effect is instant or sustained over a period of time, a crisis affects stakeholders both inside and outside the organisation. Customers grow anxious. Employees get nervous. Management gets interrogated. Shareholders get impatient. Competitors sense an opportunity. The media increases scrutiny. The pressure is high, and the stakes are higher. It is in critical times like these that organisations should be able to seamlessly switch from their current marketing communication to hard-core crisis communication.

On any given day, organisations pay utmost care, attention, and tact to build their brand image. But, when a catastrophe hits, crisis communication becomes the lifeblood of the brand, ensuring that the reputation and image of the organisation are maintained. From a communications standpoint, a crisis attracts public scrutiny, threatening the brand’s ability to conduct business. Preparation and sound judgement become critical for survival.

In today’s time, real-world catastrophes play out on all media and all platforms second-by-second, requiring prompt crisis communication. A crisis invites negative media mentions across the board: press, social media, TV, and radio. Hence, the response has to be multichannel. People want news and information in a crisis. During such times, if information is unavailable or inconsistent, people feel unsure about what they know or hear and are on the lookout for a credible and transparent message to guide them towards a positive future.

But they usually don’t navigate directly to the organisation’s website for news and information; rather, they actively search and scan through multiple sources. Brands should be cognizant of this and ensure that they are serving this need. All marketing budgets and all focus should be shifted to relevant crisis communications and content so that all dangers of fake information are thwarted and damages are limited. In such scenarios, an empathetic ear is what is required.

Showing empathy during a crisis is crucial. One of the more debated tenets of crisis communication is that someone involved in a crisis must be prepared to empathise and even publicly apologise for the events that have transpired. Taking responsibility means communicating what an organisation is doing to remedy a situation that the media and the public are holding the organisation accountable for. People want to hear from the brand, but more importantly, they want to be heard and shown that their feedback is taken into consideration. In addition to this, something tangible needs to be done to help people. Brands need to be able to walk the talk. Consumers tend to remember the brands that have helped them through rough times. This increases brand stickiness when the bad phase passes.

Additionally, brand communication should always have a transparent and authentic tone. Hollow promises do more harm than doing nothing. While brands have plenty at stake during a crisis, communication with sincerity and not promotion tugs at people’s hearts.

Crisis communication is designed in a way to keep people safe, help them adjust, and cope emotionally. In a crisis, people’s information needs to evolve. So should a good communicator’s messaging. Different forms of information can help listeners feel secure and connect to a deeper sense of purpose and stability. Brands should send out simple messages—a lot of messages—through all communication channels, including in-app messages, video messages, podcasts, broadcast, print, social media, or any other media, to sort out the chaos for all. Keeping crisis communication simple and easy-to-consume for everyone will ensure acceptance. As with all communication, messages in times of crisis should have a clear objective and be relevant and tailored to the target audience.

Also, in times of crisis and change, highlighting an organisation’s competency is important. Stakeholders need to be reminded that all unprecedented situations will be handled meticulously. Crisis communications should be share-worthy and something to remember in the times to come. In addition, word-of-mouth helps spread a brand’s message and reach a wider audience. Colleagues should be encouraged to share the message internally and externally wherever relevant.

Crisis communication is an art. With a sound strategy, it is capable of navigating the organisation smoothly through choppy waters. In times like these, the best way is to communicate, communicate, communicate.

The author of this article is PayNearby chief marketing officer Jayatri Dasgupta.