Crisis is something no business wants, but all companies should be prepared for crisis well ahead of time. In this three-part series, we will examine crisis communications in general, then look at internal and external crisis communications specifically.

What Is a Crisis in Business?

First, let’s identify what it’s not – a bad review. In today’s world of social media, where anyone and everyone can say anything and everything, company reviews are rampant – and all-important. In fact, 65 percent of new business comes from referrals and positive online reviews. Checking reviews is now part and parcel of the consumer process. That said, however, a bad review does not a crisis make.

A company crisis can be defined as something unlawful, immoral, unhealthy, or deadly. More succinctly, a crisis is newsworthy; it’s a situation that can severely and lastingly affect a company’s reputation, profitability, employees, customers and perhaps even society or the environs at large. Think BP’s oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. And, though it was 36 years ago, we won’t soon forget the Tylenol cyanide poisoning crisis that spawned the placement of seals on over-the-counter medications.

Expanding on the newsworthy aspect of crisis, it’s important to realize that the media and their audiences love the “low-hanging fruit” of a dramatic story. And that drama is almost always negative. Reporters flock to a bad situation like flies on molasses, and they want to know three things to which all companies must know how to respond – in advance of a crisis:

  • What happened?
  • What caused it?
  • What are you doing to keep this from happening again?

These three questions are primary and are going to come right away. But answering them truthfully and responsibly is only part of the PR finesse that will be required after a crisis. Secondary messaging is in order next, when more information comes through and the news channels and their readers/viewers demand it.

External communication is only half of the equation, however. Internal communications – what and how a company conveys to its employees – is just as vital to crisis management.

Understanding that a company crisis is not a bad review (or even several), but a larger, more endemic problem that attracts waves of media attention, we are ready to explore how to proactively manage crisis externally, outside company halls and walls, and, just as importantly, how to plan for inside communications.