Some mistakenly use the term “crisis communication” interchangeably with issues management. While they are similar, they are two independent beasts.
Crisis communication is a reactive process that has little ongoing continuity past its immediate impact. Your employee issues a tweet causing the social media universe to explode. The FDA issues a food recall, or someone files a lawsuit. These crisis scenarios can last years, but presumably there is an end.
Issues management is more proactive in nature and allows clients to plan and tackle emerging issues. Clients most likely have a lead time (in some instances it could be weeks) to develop a strategic communications action plan, including internal and external strategies, to help clients manage the confidential issue at hand, such as a store closing, employee layoffs or a pending sale.
In recent months, the Rapid Response team at GroundFloor Media has worked with its clients and their respective legal teams to determine the best course of action to mitigate specific issues. As we always say, both crises and issues can impact a company’s overall brand reputation, so it is wise to approach both strategically, even in the eleventh hour.
While crisis and issues management are not terms we tend to think of positively, there are definite benefits to both. A Crisis allows a company to learn from potential weaknesses. Clients can tighten their internal processes, beef up crisis communication plans, and conduct additional message and media training with executives. Pending sensitive issues allow companies to coordinate an integrated internal communications effort to avoid, if possible, an issue from evolving into an eventual crisis.
As the communications liaison at your company, it is critical to maintain and wear your strategic hat during a crisis communication or issues management problem. To ensure you are buttoned up for your next crisis or issue, here are some tips to consider.
Crisis Communication and Issues Management Tips
- Create a crisis communication plan that includes scenarios, messaging and a response plan. Revisit it annually and update scenarios and members of the crisis communication team.
- Create a social media policy, and share it regularly with your employees. All too often what an employee believes is an innocuous remark on social media can come back and harm a company’s reputation.
- Train staff on how to respond to a crisis or issue at hand, including conducting media and messaging training.
- For issues management work, take the time to develop a plan or, if time is more limited, outline your strategic approach in a one-page memo.
- Be proactive and hire an agency or outside consultant – even if they don’t execute, their strategic counsel and outside perspective on the issue can be invaluable.
- Learn from your mistakes, and understand that trying to cover up the truth instead of making real reforms will continue to harm a company’s reputation for the long term.
~ Jen Wills