Why Internal Communication Is Critical During a Crisis

October 2, 2018

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When a crisis hits, PR professionals are some of the first people called to the room. We’re trained to comprehend the situation, consider every angle, and then create an action plan with response messaging to ensure the company’s reputation remains untouched (all while keeping a calm-and-collected composure, of course).

While we’re planning our strategies for external stakeholders, it’s easy to forget one core audience that can make or break any crisis communications plan: employees. If one employee goes off script or decides to talk with press (even unknowingly), then your entire approach may be shot.

And this goes beyond just company employees; if you’re an agency professional, you need to keep your own team on message, too. That means no gossiping to friends over drinks and no posting to social — even if the account is private.

As you approach your next big crisis communications plan, here are a few things to consider to keep company employees and agency teams aligned, on message and part of the overarching strategy.

1. Provide messaging early and often.

With dozens of messages flying around during times of crisis, it’s critical that your internal teams are in the loop on what they should be saying and — even more important — what topics to avoid. You’re undoubtedly preparing a crisis-messaging document anyway, so make sure to share it with company employees as well as your agency teams.

To take it a step further (which, in crisis, you always should), host in-person meetings with staffers to talk them through the situation as well as the response so they understand the holistic approach. A simple one-off email is easy to ignore, but a sit-down with the corporate communications team or even the C-suite leaders? Not so much.

2. Designate one point person for inquiries or red flags. 

To keep the lines of internal communication simple and efficient, designate one or two people from the communications team — perhaps one for the agency, one for the client — to serve as the “go-to” for any press inquiries or red flags.

In a business crisis, you want to be one step ahead of the news cycle — and your employees are the company’s eyes and ears to help you do just that. Make sure your teams are sufficiently rewarded and applauded for coming to you with any potential issues.

3. Be open and available for questions and concerns.

Your crisis point person also should be ready and happily willing to answer any employee questions or concerns about the crisis. If employees feel out of the loop or unheard, they’re less likely to follow protocol and may cause further unrest for the company.

Equally important? Make sure your point person is fully available to actually answer these questions. Nothing’s worse than saying you’re there to help employees — but never actually responding.

4. Provide blunt but necessary reminders.

Your employees may think chatting about the crisis over drinks is harmless, but what if a reporter or company stakeholder is next to you? As proven by the current news cycles, nothing is truly “private,” and conversations like this should simply not happen. Remind the employees that this confidentiality is part of their job responsibility, and one slip-up is all it takes.

5. Offer crisis experience for interested employees.

Unfortunately, PR crises are prevalent in the PR world, so new professionals will benefit from learning the ins and outs of managing these issues firsthand. The next time your team has a crisis, select an agency or in-house communications team member who’s expressed interest in crisis to shadow you as you navigate the strategy — from research and messaging to sharing internal updates and managing media requests.

This valuable experience will ensure your team’s next generation of crisis managers are ready, experienced and capable of handling issues, both big and small.

Stephanie Vermillion

Stephanie Vermillion is a content marketer and journalist in the New York City area. She’s the founder of Stephanie Vermillion Studio, and you can follow her work at @StephanieVermillionStudio on Instagram.

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