Strategic communication in crisis management – Lessons from the Airline Industry

Author: Sally J. Ray

The context of plane crashes is a central example of what threatens the legitimacy of the airline, its image and reputation, and the financial situation. It has a tendency to transmit across the industry, hitting not only the victims and the airline, but also the stakeholders. The aviation society must therefore protect its long-term interests and public image. To this end, an effective communication plan is critical. This can be built up according to the course of a crisis in three phases: pre-crisis, crisis and post-crisis. Furthermore, it should be borne in mind that the crisis extends to more than just the organization. It is a system with many interdependent variables, so focusing on only part of the system is limiting our understanding of the crisis and the communication involved.

In a plane crash, trying to understand the necessary communication raises a number of questions: which factors influence communication? How do these factors define the boundaries of the organization’s efforts to repair the reputation damage and resolve the crisis? Which communication strategies are the most effective? Which variables influence that effectiveness? How can an organization prepare to manage one of the crisis?

To effectively address the effects of a crisis, managers must understand its nature, management rules and the implications of right and wrong communications. This provides a sense of predictability and expectations when a crisis occurs.

Throughout the story, theory and practice are intertwined. The practice consists of a number of drawn-out cases of plane crashes, in which the communication is dissected in a “ scrutinizing ” way, each time identifying a number of crystal-clear lessons.

The six most important lessons of strategic communication in crisis management from the aviation sector are perhaps :

  • A key to effective crisis management is the development of a responsible organizational culture that values ​​safety and is sensitive to the dangers of its operational operation.
  • Planning for crises reduces some of the uncertainty associated with managing a crisis; however, crisis managers must anticipate the challenges of applying a rational plan to an irrational situation. This requires a 360 ° view: people with different backgrounds, education and interests must be recruited or a great deal of education and training must be provided.
  • An organization in crisis must communicate from the beginning that it is in control and is concerned about the situation.
  • An organization must be sensitive to stakeholder perceptions of the actions and reactions of the organization during the crisis.
  • The media attention determines the seriousness, significance and direction of the crisis and is directly reflected upon the organization’s image; therefore crisis managers need to have a very good understanding of the journalistic processes in covering a crisis.
  • When an organization defends its position or image, its strategic communication choice must be determined against the background of this unique crisis situation.

Crisis Communication Planning – A Guide to Dealing with the Media during a Crisis

Author: Tim Herrera

The essence of crisis communication is told by the author based on checklists. He begins his story with a search for a definition of crisis. What types of crises that can affect the organization are we talking about here ? The examples he gives can all be classified as tame crises:

  • Accident / death
  • Crime
  • Natural disaster
  • Employee misconduct
  • Financial problems
  • Protests
  • Product recall

The big advice is to plan ahead of time in case a crisis strikes. You do that by:

  • Make emergency plans in advance
  • Create a crisis management team
  • Create a strategic communication plan
  • Appoint a spokesperson
  • Create key messages
  • Determine the best communication channels
  • Never to talk about things you don’t know about
  • Be honest and open
  • Learn to relax
  • Determine the stakeholders and accept the interested parties
  • Draw up a response checklist
  • Determine what the media can ask for during a crisis
  • Determine a crisis meeting agenda in advance
  • Determine if you will need outside help.

It is important in the work of the incident management team that it is complementary to the operation of the media response plan. It is best to have a group of managers / volunteers who can be called together quickly. The spokesperson can then work with them to disseminate the information where necessary.

Questions to answer when drawing up the strategic communication plan are:

  • What’s the issue about?
  • What’s the solution?
  • Who can help create change?
  • Who should be mobilized?

These questions are regardless of whether you work in the short or long term, the answers will determine what it will be.

When you get these questions right, answer in a single sentence “what this is all about”. What do you want people to remember from how you handle this crisis? Stay with the core of that message and go further on from there.

Also identify the “rulers” in the community: they could be students, political leaders, legislators, business people, parents… and keep them in mind when creating the message. This does not only apply in times of crisis.

What should not be forgotten at the end, but neither during the handling of the crisis and the crisis communication is an evaluation : how you will determine whether the plan worked out or not. Whether the plan was successful. This indicates opportunities to adjust the plan but also to adjust the business.

And another important fact: during a crisis, continuing to respond and communicate is of vital importance.

The immediate duties of the spokesperson and the crisis communication team are:

  1. First alarm
  2. Gather the facts
  3. Verify the information and keep the information up to date
  4. Prepare the media (calls and visits)
  5. Get ready to receive reporters.
  6. Follow-up of the media and current relations

The Storyteller’s secret

Author: Carmine Gallo

In this book, the author explains the secrets of the best storytellers. Each of them has his own success story. But how do they do it? The readers of the book “Talk like TED” have a strong sequel in this book, where more secrets are uncovered. I include this book in my bibliography because telling stories is or should be made relevant for everyone at every level in every organization.

According to the author, there are 5 types of storytellers:

1 ° Storytellers who fuel our inner fire.

2 ° Story tellers who teach us something.

3 ° Storytellers who make things easier.

4 ° Storytellers who motivate us.

5 ° Storytellers who set movements in motion.

From each of these groups of storytellers, the author makes an analysis of how they do the story on the basis of illustrious illustrative examples. I give here a brief summary of the “lessons identified”.

1 ° Storytellers who fuel our inner fire.
  • Let your passion float and share it
  • The question is: “What will make your heart beat faster?”
  • Rigid optimism: see a failure as a lesson to improve your storytelling technique.
  • Believe in the power of your idea.
  • Practice! You shape yourself by practicing.
  • Believe in yourself.
  • Tell your story personally.
  • Bring a tension in your story.
  • Do not shy away from difficult subjects. They build an emotional bond with the audience.
  • Use in your story the technique of the three-part stories (eg trigger, transformation and life lesson)
  • Put from your experience or from an event that gave rise to your ambition into the story to become part of the folklore of your organization.
  • Use a higher goal, a higher mission, in your story as a motivator.
  • Sometimes, use the following three steps (Peter Guber):

    • Attract attention with a question or an unexpected challenge
    • Provide an emotional experience through a story about the struggle that ultimately leads to the challenge
    • Stimulate your story with a ‘call to action’.

2 ° Story tellers who teach us something.

  • Facts and numbers are fun and important, but rarely have a place in a story or a pitch. You should not touch people in their heads but in their hearts.
  • 65% of your content must consist of stories. It creates confidence and a deeper emotional bond with the audience.
  • Break through expected patterns in a positive, shocking or surprising way. E.g. Bill Gates released mosquitoes in a room at a TED talk.
  • Use analogies. This helps understanding information and concepts that others have no knowledge of.
  • Do not use statistics or jargon.
  • Tell us about the problem you had, and how you solved it. Use specific, concrete and relevant details.
  • Tell a story in which the customer recognizes himself.
  • A brand is not a single story. Share the stage with the good storytellers of your organization. Everyone has a story.
  • Humor is a powerful emotionally charged event. That is why you use it best just before a moment that you want the listener to remember. It is followed by focused listening. It increases the effective transfer of the message afterwards.
  • Know what you are talking about and be and stay true to your brand.
  • Twitter, Facebook, Vine and Instagram are meant to leave just enough information to attract attention to the rest of your content.
  • Our brains are set on stories, not on abstract matters.
  • The feeling you give people is important to adjust behavior.
  • Exceed expectations. Put the dots on the ‘i’.

3 ° Storytellers who make things easier.

  • If you can not make something clear on the back of an envelope, it is a bad idea.
  • A good story starts with a good header that immediately makes both the idea and the message clear.
  • Say what you mean and mean what you say and preferably use (only) a few thought-out words.
  • Use the three-line rule. It gives structure, simplicity and action.
  • Use simple and accessible language so that students from a primary school can understand it.
  • Use video. Enter a conversation with the viewer.
  • Use imagery, and less, less and less text to give a presentation a lively image with feeling.
  • Introduce heroes and villains to keep the story simple.
  • Keep the story to the most important things that everyone can understand.
  • Simplify every complexity.
  • Practice a pitch until it becomes interesting and it can be given in 60 seconds.

4 ° Storytellers who motivate us.

  • You need a struggle to have a villain overcome by the hero. The struggle is a sign of honor.
  • Never believe the story of “having or not having DNA for success”.
  • Motivate others to dream bigger and achieve everything that we are capable of.
  • Do not break bricks, do not work for an income, but build a cathedral.
  • Sketch with stories an image behind the mission and vision of the organization.
  • Use stories to make culture. Make your people passionate about it. Let the employees see that they are the hero in their own story with the customer. Share their stories. Put them in the spotlight.
  • Inspire with stories about adversity, grief and victory. Use tension and triumph.
  • Share in the lessons from the past with others. Those that gave you strength. Appreciate and protect your origin.
  • Speak about real people who have endured hardships. It sets an emotional heart on fire.
  • Use specific, lively, tangible and concrete details
5 ° Storytellers who set movements in motion.
  • Use short words and short sentences and a minimum of words.
  • Use metaphors and anaphors.
  • Use tension and triumph to empathize the audience.
  • Do not use an endless list of facts and figures and other information. Use facts to convince in balance with a trip to another time and place by means of a presentation.
  • Put the audience in the situation of the hero. Give them the feeling that they can help determine the outcome.
  • Make the story big.
  • Technology complements a story, but the story comes first.

A final addition I would like to make is the following: do not shy away from an opportunity to sharpen your storytelling technique.

Good Practice Guidelines – 2018 Edition – The Global guide to good practice in business continuity

Published by The Business Continuity Institute

This edition of the GPG differs according to its own saying in numerous ways from the 2013 edition. Some of those that stayed with me are:

–    More collaboration of the BCM employees with other employees in other management disciplines.
–   
Supply chain was integrated more into the story.
–   
More links are being made to ISO standards.
–   
Risk assessment has gained importance.

There are other things that have changed, which are noticeable:

–    Throughout the work, the link is regularly made to information security, but without referring to the ISO 27K series.
–   
The BIA is still a 4-tuple, but the mandatory character has been changed to “use what you need”
–   
A distinction has been made between crisis management and incident management.
–   
There is a better explanation for strategic, tactical and operational plans in times of crisis. However, without mentioning that the choice is also important as a function of what one needs. This piece remained theoretically sharply separated.
–   
There is a beautiful table here and there with more explanation of what is meant, such as the table with specific core competences and management skills that are required by the BCM responsible, divided according to the 6 professional practices.

In the book, extensive attention was given to PP6: ‘Validation’. Practicing and validating the operation of the BC program of the organization is very important as the keystone of the cycle to its restart.

In summary, we can state that the book is important for the beginners in BCM, but also for the advanced as a reference book.

What I personally regret that lacks is a bibliography for each chapter. For further reading I have the feeling that the interested parties are somewhat abandoned. But then there is the URL of ‘The Business Continuity Institute’ where you can find more information. (www.thebci.org).

Crisis Communications – The Definitive Guide To Managing The Message

Author: Steven Fink

In 34 chapters, the author explains what crisis communication is about. Everyone knows

  • We Know;
  • We Care;
  • We Do;
  • We’ll be Back.

But if it stays there you miss a lot. Note: We know, care, do, be back is already a good start if you are just in crisis. The problem originates when you put in too many stereotypical phrases. Then the crowd reacts with ‘Yeah, right!’. This also happens if you want to say ‘We’re sorry’ and give it a wrong turn.

Communication is so much more, and pay attention, not everyone can do it. But some positions in the organization (CEOs often) have to show up under certain circumstances. The pitfall of ‘No comment!’ and the like is often there then. The book therefore starts with an example of how it should not be: “I’d like my life back”. The author writes this book with a lot of examples from his practice. He then also goes into what the CEO of BP should have said and done.

But there are many more lessons to be learned from the book. I will pick up a few things here that have stayed with me.

The first thing is: how do you recognize a spokesman? This white raven has the following characteristics:

  • He / she wants to do it;
  • He / she is credible;
  • He / she speaks intelligibly (without jargon) and understandably (clearly);
  • He / she has sympathy;
  • He / she has a good cuddling factor;
  • He / she has knowledge of the matter;
  • He / she is not easily influenced.

He / she also has a good intuitive approach to the following issues:

  • What do you do with an aggressive reporter who interrupts you with a new question?
  • Do you always answer the question asked?
  • If there are several camera crews, do you know where to look?
  • What if many questions are asked at once?

A second thing that remains is the phenomenon of ‘lawyers’. They often want to hear ‘no comment’ in order not to have a (false?) appearance of guilt if you show empathy (We Care, We’re sorry) because that gives a lot of extra work in the courtroom. So you speak to them, you consult with them, but ‘no comment’ is not an option.

In addition, Mark Twain’s quote sticks: “Always tell the truth, that way you do not have anything to remember.” But remember: telling the whole truth is only for in court. What is strongly associated with this is the reputation of the organization and the amount of goodwill it receives from the customers.

One of the most difficult things is communication when victims have fallen. Then the audience wants to know 3 things:

  • What happened? Tell the facts.
  • How did it happen? You should not just go into this. Say you are investigating it. And that is true. This is only definitively known after the judicial investigation.
  • What are you doing? Do not say that it will never happen again, you can not promise that. Rather say that there is an ongoing investigation and that you will give more information the moment results become available.

Sometimes you have to say sorry. This is best done on your own initiative and first. It steals the ‘thunder’.

You also need to know what your crisis is and what is not. You solve your crisis, the rest is done by the police and the court. You must therefore first recognize, identify and isolate your own crisis.

Furthermore, there are crisis communication strategies. You have to be able to tackle some common issues.

  • Who will you communicate with?
  • How will you do this?
  • Who speaks with the discussion partners?
  • Is the government at your side?
  • What is the ‘key message’?
  • How can you keep coming back to that?
  • Which questions should you anticipate?
  • Keep the message specific.
  • Stay understandable, do not escape in jargon!
  • Be honest and take care of evidence.
  • Determine the ‘take away message’.
  • Use examples and metaphors that people can understand.
  • And last but not least: determine what you will do if you yourself are the crisis.

And then of course as icing on the cake: how do you build a defensible decision?

The book reads smoothly, is lavishly upholstered with practical examples of how things should and should not be done. The book does not guarantee that you will be a crisis communicator after reading it. But it is a good start to practice, practice, and practice again.