For communicators, crisis has become the norm, a reality that requires a state of constant readiness for controversies — and even emergencies.
Randi Stipes, CMO at The Weather Company, is no stranger to crises. The organization’s commitment to keeping the public informed, not only of everyday weather conditions, but also during climate emergencies, means it is prepared to care for both its workforce and its users in the event of even the most devastating disasters.
She spoke at Ragan’s 2023 Future of Communications Conference in Austin last week about lessons she’s learned on the job as a marketer and communicator whose work literally saves lives. These were some of the lessons we learned during her dramatic talk.
A state of perpetual preparedness
Even The Weather Channel, the consumer-facing product of The Weather Company, can’t foresee every storm or its impact, so setting the stage is critical to navigating a weather-related emergency — or any other crisis — when it strikes.
“Every business needs a plan for crisis mode,” she said. “In today’s crazy world, it’s inevitable you’ll use it. … Having a solid comms plan that you can refer back to when things get hectic — that’s critical.”
That plan’s foundation is its mission, and communicators must make an effort to wholeheartedly champion that mission.
“You need to carry the torch to evangelize that mission across your organization and beyond,” Stipes told the audience.
She said communicators act as the “compass and conscience” of their organizations, both internally and externally, a role that requires authenticity and transparency in order to stabilize another keystone in your metaphorical weather-proofing process: Trust.
“Building trust not only with the media but the public is not a one-and-done action,” Stipes said .
When the storm strikes
You have your foundation, infused with purpose, authenticity and trust. But what about the moment itself — when the crisis has arrived and it’s all hands on deck?
Stipes advised communicators to stay nimble. “Make sure your preparation playbook leaves enough room for agility,” she said.
That’s where internal trust plays a role: The ability to get everyone on board and work in tandem to do what needs to be done and mitigate any damage. “Leaders need to empower their people to make decisions,” she said. “When we can steer through a crisis the right way, the pride we have for our team and the confidence we have in our own abilities is unmatched.”
Powered by IBM Watson, The Weather Company relies heavily on technology to stay connected with millions of people during an emergency. Similarly, tech and communication tools can bepowerful allies for keeping organizations connected and on the same page when any type of crisis arises.
However, Stipes said people will always be the ballast during high-intensity times. “We can’t solely rely on machine learning as we use AI in our comms,” she noted. “Our roles are nuanced and emotional. Humans will always play an essential role.”
That humanity and empathy serves as the linchpin for survival and a guiding light during the darkest times organizations and employees face together, whether it’s the aftermath of a hurricane or interpersonal conflict during a war on the global stage. “Communicators have the responsibility and opportunity to impact communities by impacting conversations and dialogues,” Stipes said. “Understanding needs to underpin our craft.”
Communicators who follow this organization’s lead will find they can weather any storm.
Discover more lessons learned from Ragan’s 2023 Future of Communications Conference in these stories by Ragan’s editorial team: \
- Ragan’s Game Changers on the future of crisis management and employee engagement
- Top Takeaways from Ragan’s Future of Communications Conference
- Research: How CEOs influence the comms function
- How communicators build multigenerational bridges
Jess Zafarris is a content director, editor, journalist, speaker, social media engagement strategist and creator. Her 13 years of experience in media have included such roles as the Director of Content at Ragan Communications, Audience Engagement Director at Adweek, and Content Strategy Director and Digital Content Director for Writer’s Digest and Script Mag. Follow her on Twitter/Threads/IG and Tiktok @jesszafaris and connect with her on LinkedIn.