This week, we continue our series of interviews with crisis communications thought leaders on our online reputation management blog with Caroline Sapriel, founder and Managing Director of CS&A, a global risk and crisis management consulting firm working with multinational clients across industry sectors in Asia, the Middle East and Africa, Europe, and the Americas. With over 25 years of experience in risk and crisis management, corporate communications and public affairs, Caroline Sapriel is recognized as a leader in her profession and acknowledged for her ability to provide customized, results-driven counsel and training at the highest level.
What is crisis communications?
Crisis Communication is the process by which an organization communicates with all stakeholders relevant to the crisis. The media (mainstream and social) is a critical vehicle to get the message across to all publics. However, crisis communication includes internal communication as well as the engagement, whether pro-active or reactive, with the groups/individuals impacted by the crisis. Crisis Communication must form an integral part of the organization’s overall Crisis Management process and be based on the crisis strategy adopted by the affected organization. To be effective communication in a crisis must be founded on the organization’s values and business principles. A Mission Statement must be articulated early on in the crisis to help steer the organization and hold the course through rough times.
What are the biggest mistakes you see people and companies make when dealing with the media?
They wait too long to respond/communicate and lose control. They mistakenly believe that by waiting for more facts, they will avoid speculation and rumors. Leaving a communication void with the media actually tends to make things worse as the media will fill this void by getting information from any source and not always reliable ones. Waiting too long to respond to media inquiry can also give the impression that the organization/individual concerned is hiding something.
How important is social media to your reputation management strategy?
In today’s world, social media is critical, but must be dealt with strategically, especially in crisis times. Whilst speedy response is vital, knee-jerk reactions should be avoided. Addressing stakeholder concerns raised through social media networks effectively in a crisis requires a well thought-out response strategy integrating mainstream and social media. It takes manpower and resources and is difficult to improvise. Those organizations with an existing presence on and engagement with social media networks, stand a better chance to succeed.
What is the first thing a company should do when there is a PR disaster?
Get the facts, assess the situation for further risks and threats and prepare a holding statement reiterating the organization’s values and priorities on people safety if it is at stake.
How can CEOs help build and repair corporate reputation?
Reputation is based on credibility, which in turn is based on being truthful. CEOs that recognize this, work on establishing and maintaining credibility, before, during and after a crisis.
What can employees do to help their company during and after a PR crisis?
Organizations that have actively engaged and communicated with their employees at the onset of a crisis will be more likely to get support from them in return than if they have kept them in the dark. Employees that respect that only authorized spokespersons can speak to the media will help avoid the spread of rumors during a crisis and throughout the recovery phase.
What can companies do to better prepare for a public relations crisis?
Active monitoring and analysis of mainstream and social media will help to detect and proactively manage issues that may arise. Mapping stakeholders will also help identify possible areas of tensions and conflicting agendas that may escalate. Last but not least, having a policy and the infrastructure in place will allow the organization to provide an adequate response timely.