How to identify your stakeholders in a crisis
A crisis breaks. The media has gotten hold of it, or will soon. You know you need to get a holding statement out to journalists as soon as possible, and consider whether to go out to the media proactively. In the rush to put something together, it’s vital to identify your stakeholders outside of the the public and the media. These will vary depending on what kind of industry you’re in, but could include any or all of the following.
If you’re in the process of releasing a statement to the media during a crisis, you should also consider how you’re going to communicate what’s happening to these audiences.
Family or next-of-kin
If the crisis you’re handling involves an emergency situation where lives or at risk, or people have already been killed or injured (e.g. factory fire, terrorist attack, gas leak), you need to set up an emergency call centre straight away. Get dedicated phone lines open so that people whose family or friends are missing can get in touch immediately for an update. These phone lines should be manned by members of the team who have gone through specific training in Employee Assistance or crisis management.
Your employees deserve to know what’s going on, and they should not find out from the media. They are your brand ambassadors, whether you think so or not. If something major is happening within your organisation, people will ask them questions, and you should give them information on what they should and shouldn’t say. Journalists may start ringing from desk to desk hunting for a story, and if you have not taken the time to communicate with them, your employees might inadvertently give a comment that can portray your company in a bad light.
Ideally, get all your employees in a room and tell them face-to-face what’s going on. In larger companies, you might just gather the managers and ask them to cascade the news to their teams. A mass email is not ideal, but in a crisis where speed is imperative, it’s a viable option.
One way to really piss off an investor in your company is to let them find out there’s a crisis situation going on from the six o’clock news. Major investors get a phone call straight away from someone suitably senior (This does not need to be a member of the crisis communications team, but can be the CFO or Investor Relations manager). Smaller but still significant investors can get phone calls from other members of the team. Minor investors get an email with your holding statement, promising to update them with more details as soon as possible.
Government bodies and politicians
In case of a crisis that has the potential to impact the environment, result in major job losses, cause political or social unrest, impact how your city or country is viewed by investors or otherwise impact the economy, it may be appropriate to inform particular government bodies and local or national politicians. A face-to-face meeting is the best way to approach this.
Your clients or customers
Instead of relying on journalists to accurately portray your message, talk to your clients or customers directly. Much like in the investors section above, it’s important to prioritise. If you have Account Managers or Sales Managers that already have a relationship built up with your client, let them deliver the message.
If you have thousands of customers and it’s impossible to speak to them individually, send an email that speaks openly about what’s happening. Write it in a human voice rather than a corporate tone, and let them know about the actions you’re taking to mitigate the crisis. Give them contact details for any follow-up questions. This is a medium you own, and it’s one of few opportunities you have to communicate your message where it won’t be distilled through the media.
Influencers and bloggers
Although not traditionally part of a crisis communications plan, in the bid to identify your stakeholders, it’s worth keeping a list of online personalities who are influential in your industry, particularly if you’re working with a consumer brand. Communicating with the blogosphere early and often can help to shape the conversation. How the conversation around a crisis develops in the first hours and days can define how your brand fares when the headlines have died down, so don’t overlook this increasingly important group.
So, those are our thoughts on how to identify your stakeholders and engage with them. Does your organisation have a plan in place for dealing with crises? If not, we can help. Contact us to find out how we can map out the actions your organisation should take before a crisis breaks, while it’s going on and in the aftermath.