The devastating earthquake which hit Christchurch on February 22, and the resulting death and destruction in its aftermath has highlighted – in all too much reality – the need for having excellent crisis communication systems in place. So far, the communications efforts coming out from Christchurch have been very good.
In a perverse way, the city’s earlier earthquake on September 4 – in which a fair bit of damage was done to buildings and infrastructure, but where no deaths occurred – had given those now involved a dummy run in managing crisis communications during such a natural disaster. Christchurch is also lucky in that its main spokesman and current mayor is former TV front man Bob Parker. The former ‘This is Your Life” host is a consummate communicator, is not rattled by the media circus and is eloquent in getting out necessary key messages.
A crisis is an event that occurs suddenly, often unexpectedly and demands a quick response – ie an earthquake. A crisis will interfere with normal routines and business, create uncertainty and stress. Well-managed crisis communications can not only preserve reputations and credibility, but can also enhance them.
The key to effective crisis communication is to be prepared before a crisis occurs. Once an emergency happens, there is little time to think much less to plan. Without a crisis plan, you can be overwhelmed by events.
In a crisis, the best course of action is to be forthcoming and honest and do what it takes to facilitate stories. Remember, the media are going to write and air stories with or without your help. So it’s in your best interest to participate in a story – even a negative one – in order to have your position correctly represented.
During a crisis, bring all the key media players into a room and get the facts straight. But never tell more than you actually know and constantly update reporters. Journalists have to get information out – and often they are competing to ‘break’ stories first. If you don’t give them anything – they may be forced to report on rumours.
Five key tips for crisis communications:
• Have a crisis plan in place.
• In a time of crisis, go public as soon as you can – but only with what you actually know.
• Get top management or officials to front the crisis.
• Keep your internal audiences informed.
• Update both media and internal audiences frequently and regularly.