There are probably 40 textbooks in my office devoted to public relations, media or communication – every one of which includes a section on crisis communications.
It seems to be one of the fastest growing areas in media and communication management, and there are plenty of experts out there to help out when disaster strikes.
But the recovery stage of a crisis, disaster or emergency can be harder than managing the emergency itself.
During the crisis stage, everyone is focused on immediate needs and it can be quite exhilarating for the various players involved – particularly the media. But as soon as the excitement is over the challenge for the media is to keep the story alive, so they move into the aftermath stage often before anyone else does.
There are plenty of definitions of the difference between an issue, an emerging issue, a crisis, an emergency and the recovery.
My definition is simple – the transition to recovery begins the minute the media starts to play the blame game.
It is during this transition period that your reputation is most likely to take a pounding.
The most critical thing any organisation can do at this point is to take hold of and keep the agenda.
It’s important to not let a vacuum develop during this stage – a vacuum the media will fill with rumour, speculation and heart-wrenching stories of individuals who have slipped through the cracks.
And for people affected by the disaster, it is often the time when they feel like others have lost interest in their cause. So it is critical on both counts that you pay attention to filling any information gaps.
In the end, it’s your reputation that suffers if the public and the media think you were only interested in the crisis when it was a big story. You need to keep on caring long after the glory of the crisis is over.
CreativeTerritory gives clients the following advice during the recovery phase of any crisis:
- Appoint your recovery team when the threat of the crisis is still emerging, so you achieve a seamless transition from crisis to recovery.
- Be the authoritative source of information on the recovery. If you don’t, one of the media outlets will be.
- Coordinate all information through a central source so your messages are consistent and packaged in a user friendly way.
- Do not let an information vacuum develop that may be filled by uninformed speculation or mischievous rumour.
- Use the web as much as possible to stop the media and public tying up people and phone lines unnecessarily.
- Make sure you don’t give the appearance that you have “packed up and gone home” once the “glory” of the emergency is over.
- The media will not go away just because you ignore them. Make sure journalists are delivered stories and vision in a format they can use and that they can access the people and information they need to do their job.