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In times of crisis, it's vital for employees to be informed enough to act as brand advocates and be a part of the reputation management strategy. Liz Havern, head of training at Good Work, explains why crises need to be dealt with from the inside out.

It’s a fact of working life that, sometimes, things will go wrong and you need a strategy to deal with such situations. A crisis can hit any company, so knowing how to handle one well makes good business sense. The simple truth is every organisation is vulnerable, no matter how large or well-established it is. Think of Volkswagen, FIFA, or BP. The way your company communicates can make the difference between a crisis escalating out of control and it being a minor setback.

During a crisis, many companies prioritise their public image by immediately engaging with the media to put their side of the story across. This is an essential part of protecting reputation, reassuring stakeholders and customers that it’s “business as usual” and retaining support. There should be a plan in place with chief executives and senior managers taking ownership of the crisis. But, at a time of chaos, when events are developing quickly, there’s a risk of forgetting that your staff are your most important audience, because every one of them is a PR representative and crisis manager for your organisation.

Employees can be strong advocates. They can act as spokespeople. Allowing them to talk about their areas of expertise can be more credible and powerful than any PR initiative. In a crisis it’s important to involve employees who know more than anyone else about the work and the company’s situation. They can also make best use of social media, but every organisation should have an established social media policy which states how staff should use it, as well as other communication channels.
During a crisis, possibly more than at any other time, employees need to see internal communication as a trusted source of information. Company leaders should communicate early and often and provide clear, consistent and timely messages. Even if you feel you already do this, the important thing to remember is that everything is intensified in a crisis and it’s easy to take employees for granted. They should never be the last to know.

If employees become aware of a crisis situation involving their company through news reports and social media, rather than through their own organisation, this can create even more confusion at a difficult time. The last thing a company wants is to have staff who are uninformed and telling clients and customers that they don’t know what’s going on, or making up their own story, so it’s important to make sure internal and external messages are aligned and provide accurate information to everyone.

Companies need the full support of their staff to be resourceful, resilient and to recover from challenging or unexpected events as quickly as possible. Internal communication is central to this, holding everyone together when everything else seems to be falling apart. If companies have a crisis communications plan, a protocol and key messages in place, this will help staff feel things are under control. Ultimately, they are the people who will determine how quickly and fully the organisation will recover. 

When your reputation and brand is at stake, the way you communicate with your employees and how you manage your message to the media and public is a key skill which can be gained from crisis communications training. Bookings are now being taken for the new Crisis Communications course running on 15 February at a Central London venue. To find out more and secure your place, click here or email [email protected]

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