“Every communication professional knows there will come a day when they must face a crisis and deal with it efficiently and effectively.” Those words were written many months ago when I started to write my book Crisis Communication Strategies which will be published on 3 May. Never could I have expected that everyone whether communicator or not would have been affected by this global pandemic.
When I started to write the book, I wanted to bring together more than two decades of experience dealing with a whole range of crises both operational and reputational. There is so much that was important to share. It was the Manchester Arena terrorist attack in 2017 that made me determined to help others when they come face-to-face with a crisis.
I wanted to change the perception that having a plan, process or procedure was enough to successfully communicate during a crisis. Of course, planning is critical as is testing those plans, but above everything the approach must be created with a focus on the people who are affected. This includes those at the heart of the crisis, victims and their families, and the employees who are responding to the issue or incident.
The second driver for me was to make sure that people prepare both for a crisis and to manage the recovery from it. All too often we put all our effort into those critical first hours, days and weeks but forget to test how we will move from crisis into the recovery phase. The move to recovery is in many ways more complex and difficult to deal with than the first few days. An organisation can do everything right in the initial phases of a crisis only to lose support and confidence in the recovery phase.
The situation being faced now is a crisis of immense proportions and I have said many times it is going to be a marathon not a sprint. The challenge is going to be maintaining the required level of communication throughout the crisis and not to push to breaking point. It may not have felt like there was time in the past two weeks but there will become time to stop, review the plan, gather feedback and refine what is being done. As the weeks pass, starting to consider the recovery communication plan will be required.
Above all as the days become weeks and possibly months never lose sight of what matters most in all this, not the figures and statistics but the human impact of this emergency.