Is it a crisis, or a client panic?
After nearly twenty years working in public relations, I've seen my fair share of crises. From websites getting hacked to staff leaking internal emails, from companies caught up in the dot-com crash to health concerns over parabens in cosmetics.
Things can go wrong which appear to be critically impacting your role or your company
I've also seen my fair share of panics from clients and from internal stakeholders. I say "panic" with the utmost respect, because when you work in marketing or sales, and you really care about your job, things can go wrong which appear to be critically impacting your role or your company.
However it's important in a PR or communications role to take a step back and assess these issues from an external point of view. It is an issue if a competitor puts his head above the parapet and criticises your client's product in the media. It could well be a problem if your client is excluded from a major product round-up piece in a key trade magazine. Having to manage a wave of redundancies, or the closure of an office, is a stressful time where care must be taken to communicate sensitively. But these things, which can generate concerns and in some cases panic, are not crises.
They may escalate into crises, and could well cause more serious reputational problems, but with a calm and measured approach from a PR manager the client panic can be defused and the issue dealt with in a way which ensures it never becomes a crisis.
Crises are those incidents which will dramatically impact the company's profitability, reputation, or ability to operate
Crises are those incidents which will dramatically impact the company's profitability, reputation, or ability to operate. Negative media coverage in a trade magazine (probably) doesn't fall into that category — even if it feels that way to you or your client!
In many of the crisis situations I've experienced, I've found that sadly the customer experience can be neglected. In an ideal world, when a crisis occurs you should simply be able to kick into action your well-planned and rehearsed crisis comms plan! But in the event that you don't have one, a tip:
When a crisis occurs you should simply be able to kick into action your well-planned and rehearsed crisis comms plan
Take it upon yourself as a communications representative to understand the customer experience clearly. You will probably find that many integral stakeholders will be involved when crisis strikes — the IT team, the HR people, the business leaders, a sales representative for example — but often no-one is specifically tasked with keeping in mind the customer experience.
Focus on gathering information to develop as clear a view as possible of the customer experience. This will ensure that the main focus of any communications materials you develop will look at how customers are impacted, if at all.
Good crisis communications is rarely seen
It's my view that good crisis communications is rarely seen. By this I mean: good crisis communications is invisible. Some "crises" may well be just "panics" or issues, but the flipside to an issue is a crisis if you don't handle it well. With sensitive handling, keeping the customer at the heart of your response, many situations will be defused before they become a crisis allowing the client to solve the issue and continue operating as normal.