3 often-overlooked steps to take before crisis strikes

Are you ready for a PR disaster? Here’s how to ensure you’ve set up a clear, comprehensive response plan.

In a crisis, company leaders turn to communicators to limit reputational damage.

Yet many communicators feel underprepared to right the ship should disaster strike.

Here are three easy measures you can take now to ensure you’re ready for any gales and swells that might arise:

1. Build trust with legal now. Communicators and legal teams work best when they’re partners before a crisis, says Nancy Bistritz-Balkan, vice president of consumer education and advocacy at Equifax.

“Take the lead, and set up a meeting with your legal team,” she says. “The agenda should just be to create a mutual understanding about what needs to be communicated in various crisis situations. Put yourself in their shoes, and be receptive to working around language.”

She advises following up with meetings focused on reviewing copy. For example, she recalls, an attorney at a previous employer would read her copy and say, “I understand what you’re trying to do, but I need to help you change the language.”

Over time, she learned to approach legal advisors with “proposed language.”

“That’s the mindset you want to adopt,” she says. “You’ll gradually develop a deeper level of trust that will pay off when a crisis finally strikes.”

[RELATED: Register for Ragan Training’s June 15 virtual summit, “Risk Management for Communicators” for more tips from Nancy Bistritz-Balkan (Equifax), Brendan Healey (Mandell Menkes LLC) and Ronald Gilliam (S&P Global)]

2. Minimize social media risk now. A commonly overlooked risk-mitigation step is educating staff about internal rules for social media use, says Ronald Gilliam, the manager of internal digital platforms at S&P Global.

“However, it’s never too late to conduct training,” he says. “It can be a simple as a webinar or video. For example, we use an animated interactive video as part of a required social media compliance course and have found that our employees learn and retain new information at a higher level in this format.”

3. Prep and protect your intranet now. Enterprise intranets are vital in crises, because they’re often the primary channel for employee communication.

“That’s why it’s important to front-load your intranet alert messaging,” says Gilliam. “You won’t have time when a crisis actually happens.”

He recommends creating offline templates and writing guides for your crisis communications in advance. This ensures that your intranet messaging will match the company’s style and tone while conveying crucial details succinctly.

“These guidelines will help you respond more quickly,” Gilliam says, “but they’ll also allow your audience to more easily understand important information.”

Still, intranets pose inherent risks of their own. Many are cloud-based, which can make them vulnerable to hackers, viruses and malware.

The solution is education. “Internal communicators can assist by sharing ways in which employees can contribute to the security of their intranet,” he says. “That includes creating a strong password, using a VPN when on a private Wi-Fi network, and never sharing content outside of the intranet environment.”

Brian Pittman is a Ragan Communications consultant and webinar manager. Nancy Bistritz-Balkan, (vice president of consumer education and advocacy at Equifax), Brendan Healey (attorney partner at Mandell Menkes) and Ronald Gilliam (manager of internal digital platforms at S&P Global) will reveal more tips in Ragan Training’s June 15 virtual summit, “Risk Management for Communicators: How to Protect Your Staff and Reputation in 2018.”

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