We saw the breaking news first thing, and we knew that it could impact one of our partners. They weren’t involved in the situation at that point, but we could already tell there was a chance that their name could be looped in.
So we took action immediately. We advised our partner on the different strategies we could use if they were named. We prepared messaging. We drafted a statement.
Thankfully, in this case, our plan wasn’t needed. But we were ready that day, and the day after that, and so on.
That’s why we think of crisis communications as “on-demand communications” these days. It’s not that we’re always in crisis, or that crises don’t still come up in the traditional sense (when there’s a major event and we need to respond strategically to protect an organization’s reputation). The way we look at it and our approach, though, has changed—because the needs of our partners and our audiences have changed.
Let’s take a few minutes to talk about why we call it on-demand communications now and how we practice it for positive outcomes.
Why have crisis communications changed?
Look at how organizations traditionally responded to crises. There was often a lag between the crisis and the news breaking. We’d use that time to advise, strategize, and build as much of a plan as possible (press releases, talking points, interviews, etc.) before anything went out.
Those crises were (generally, and thankfully) isolated events. Now, for a lot of stuff that comes up, it’s constant and fast. Social media and the 24-hour news cycle changed the game. It’s continuous work to be prepared to communicate effectively with stakeholders at all times, on all channels, and with the flexibility to adapt quickly to what’s going on.
The kind of preparation we used to do in a crisis is now all part of our regular approach to any communications we do for our partners.
“It’s not a standalone anymore,” explains Julie Rosenthal, President of JR Communications. “It’s part of the day-to-day, and the trick is to find a communications partner that’s one-hundred percent able to respond and react.”
What do organizations need to know about on-demand communications?
When we think of a crisis, we might think of those rare high-stakes events. But there’s different levels of crises that come up that call for strategic communications.
The lowest level is happening all the time. We talked about an example above, where a news story could call for a response, even if your organization isn’t directly involved. Or, for example, there could be a negative social media post gaining a lot of attention.
And there’s a whole range of mid-level situations, too. Situations that aren’t serious yet, but could be. You need to be ready.
“When you do need to put out a statement, we’ll advise whether it’s a reactive statement, or a proactive statement and we need to be getting on top of the story, controlling the message, or if we want to stay quiet,” says Norma Kelly, our Communications Strategist. “Those are the things you really need to listen to your partner on and trust that we understand the media cycle, and this is the best advice we can give you.”
Whatever the situation is, if your organization wants or needs to respond, your response needs to be integrated.
Consider social media. It can be a powerful way to spread information and build relationships with audiences. But because of the immediacy of social media, audiences expect to get information from your organization quickly and easily. And small incidents can spiral out of control.
Our Content Strategist, Liza Sacilioc, shares how social media plays a role in on-demand communications. “Once it’s on social media, we have to start there,” she says. “Then, whatever we decide to say, we have to back that with another statement, press release, and messaging. It all ties together, and we have to work quickly with the digital team to make sure that we’re all saying the same thing.”
Here’s our approach to on-demand communications.
Our approach blends our past experiences with crisis communications with current best practices for communicating with the public. Here’s what we recommend:
- Have a soft crisis communications plan in place. Everyone should know the systems in place, like when a reporter calls reception, for example, they’re filtered to the vice president of marketing. Keep talking points up to date so that they’re always ready for when you need to spring into action.
- Have an earned media campaign. Earned media can sustain your organization’s reputation through a crisis. Why? Because it helps give your audience the big picture of your organization, its mission, and its actions—reducing the impact of a negative situation.
- Be transparent and fast. If you’re not transparent with your stakeholders, a problem can get that much worse. There isn’t time anymore to wait to decide on a response and then wait to get it out through a media interview or a press release. Instead, organizations and their communications partners need to act quickly and speak directly to their audiences.
- If you’re at fault, admit it and say what you’re doing to make it right. “It’s old school PR,” Norma explains. “If it’s already out there and you can’t control the message, if you’re at fault, all you can do is admit it. Say what you did wrong and say what you’re going to do to make it right. Get that message out there and talk about all the positive things you’re doing to rectify it.”
- Lean on your partners to reinforce messaging. Your connections can reiterate facts and stay on top of the message. Make sure that you have a plan for communicating with your partners and getting their support.
A nimble and proactive approach (that’s what we do!) keeps us ready to respond to these situations—and have the most positive impact.
We’ve made habits out of the practices used in crisis communications, integrating them throughout all our ongoing communications strategies.
We’re always thinking of how we can work together with our partners to be prepared. And we’re always ready to act on demand, in big and small ways.