Communicating Through Crisis

By Stacy Cornay for the Times-Call
Publish Date: 11/01/2015

It's raining as I write this column.

After a near-drought summer and a hotter than usual autumn, the rain falling today is welcome. The rain that fell in September, 2013 was not welcome. It was unrelenting rain, rain that spawned a devastating flood that shook the foundations our community and threatened all that we hold dear.

I wrote a column in the wake of the epic flood. I wrote about the mighty St. Vrain, the river that runs through Longmont, the river that shapes our community and enriches our lives through its beauty and recreational options, the river that overnight turned against us and plunged us into crisis.

We responded to the crisis as a community. Our leaders rallied with planning and coordination. They met changing threats on all fronts by directing available resources to where they could do the most good, by keeping all neighborhoods informed about what was happening and what was coming next. Longmont rallied behind its leaders. The crisis passed, but enduring scars remain. Yet, Longmont is stronger.

In the aftermath of the flood and the column that I wrote, many people contacted me or stopped me on the street to say how much the written words meant to them. The column made them feel more secure knowing that despite personal or political differences, we're all in this together. Through good times and bad, we are a community. We're privileged to live in a special place with a river running through it.

Rivers also run through businesses. Like the St. Vrain, those rivers are not always tranquil. They sometimes rage. When that happens, businesses are thrust into crisis management mode to put the rivers back in their banks.

Business crises come in all shapes and sizes -- from the almost-unnoticed to the headline grabbing international. Regardless of scope, any crisis has the potential for destroying brands, businesses and reputations. Businesses must be prepared to respond swiftly and decisively.

Ninety-five percent of crisis situations range from bad business practices and deaths of key personnel to environmental disasters and hostile takeovers. Generally company personnel -- with some outside counsel – have the skills, knowledge and abilities to deal with those crises. If handled quickly, lasting damage is minimal.

Five percent of crisis situations stem from a violent employee, sexual harassment, criminal behavior, angry neighbors, highly controversial social media postings or news media attacks. Every business should have a solid crisis communication plan to get out front and manage its way through the crisis.

A good crisis communication plan is premised on these fundamentals:

Bad news always ripens badly;

Silence is toxic;

Luck is limited; and

Preparation, rehearsal and team involvement will keep you in the game.

No single crisis communication plan fits all situations. The best plans integrate both external and internal input. People working in the business know it best. They know strengths and weaknesses that have to be addressed in crisis communication planning. Outsiders can see the business with fresh eyes. Their input may identify gaps or pitfalls in the planning process.

Crisis communication plans should anticipate using all media platforms (print, broadcast, social, etc.) to reach target audiences and the public directly and immediately. Public relations and marketing professionals are skilled in those areas. Make them part of the planning team, from first concept through final draft.

The useful life of any crisis communication plan is about 36 months. Periodic reviews and updating are vital. A current crisis communication plan should always be ready for implementation. However, success lies not in having a plan.

Success lies in never having to use it.


Stacy Cornay is the owner of Communication Concepts Public Relations & Advertising. 
Visit www.comm-concepts.com or call 303-651-6612.