Position Your Brand to be Crisis Ready with Formulas and Frameworks

Detroit’s annual crisis communications summit, the PIO and the Right to Know, was held as a half-day virtual event this year. As we’ve seen over the past year, crisis communications may be needed at any moment. Every institution, from a corporation, to public servant organizations, to nonprofits, should have a plan in place that can anticipate how an issue would be proactively responded to – even if no crisis has ever occurred in the past. Put your team in the position to be ahead. Now.

Breakout sessions provide the opportunity for attendees to pick topics that most interested them and interact with the panelists. Pete Ternes, DTE Energy Corporate Communications Manager, opened PIO and the Right to Know as the event’s host. Hundreds of professionals and students from across Southeast Michigan attended.

The issue management event asked an overarching question: is a situation an issue or has it spiraled to become a crisis? First, conduct a stakeholder mapping exercise to determine who will be affected by the situation at hand and determine if it is indeed a crisis, shared Melissa Agnes, keynote speaker and crisis management advisor.

Three key takeaways to integrate into your practices:

Get ahead of emotions

Highly emotional situations cloud judgement, continued Melissa Agnes. We cannot beat emotion with logic. People get emotional in times of crisis. We saw this happen through the COVID-19 pandemic. A lot of the shared communications did not speak to the logic.

Sharing facts seems easy to do when you’re so close to the situation, but you’re never going to resonate with highly emotional people. People are triggered by deep seeded emotions and need validation – which is why they often share about crisis situations on social media. Create a framework that can help anticipate how you will respond by validating how people feel. You will earn the right to communicate facts once you have built trust by first speaking to the emotions.

Two formulas should be used in creation of your framework: Detection and response. Detect the risk. Use the formula of emotionally compelling + highly relatable + easily sharable. Anticipate if can be escalated. The second is be able to respond effectively. Arm your team with the ability to ask these questions about how to respond effectively in the onset.

When communicating with stakeholders: get in through the heart to get to the brain.

Create a circle of trust

Use your mouth and ears in equal measure, shared Judy Davids, City of Royal Oak Community Engagement Specialist. She is a small but mighty team of one. Her main focus is to create an environment that everyone is working toward a common purpose. She does this by creating a circle of trust.

She recommends building strong relationships with area school districts, city chambers, the police chief, the fire chief, elected officials, media, mail carriers, neighborhood associations – everyone. Find ambassadors for your community. Share power to solve both your problems and theirs. You’re the acorn and your relationships are the mighty oak tree.

Leverage social media to your advantage

As public relations evolve, we need to incorporate social media tactics into crisis comms plans. When a crisis hits, how are you using social media to inform stakeholders and protect your brand?

Address a crisis through social media, agreed panelists Jim Thorburn, Allen Park Police Social Media Director, Chad Cyrowski, Truscott Rossman Chief Digital Officer, and moderator Melissa Ives, DTE Energy Social Media Supervisor.

As yourself three questions: Is it gaining momentum or trending down? How do you claw back reputation from damage that was done long term? How will you rectify? If it’s a brand mistake, own it. Lay out how the organization is going to fix it. The hard work begins AFTER the crisis.

Don’t post and ghost. Crisis comms is the first step. Conduct community management. Address questions and engage with the audience on social media. Be as transparent and as clear as possible. Get all the information out there. Have an existing process your team is aware of. Use social listening tools and compile an analytics report. Have a stoplight document with pre-approved responses to engage with users’ inquiries through comments and direct messages. Facebook and several other networks are walled gardens, so pair the report with manual searches of keywords surrounding the issue.

Last, there is nothing wrong with saying you don’t know. Tell stakeholders when they can receive more information. Make sure you own the narrative and start the conversation early. Be the primary source or someone else will tell the story for you.

Paula Silver, DTE Energy Vice President of Corporate Communications, closed with her remarks on a successful symposium.

Thank you to the event planning committee at DTE Energy and Wayne State University College of Fine, Performing, and Communication Arts for their contributions! And thanks to IABC Detroit for partnering on this event.

We hope to see you virtually at an upcoming event. See details on our website: prsadetroit.org/events

Rachel LePoudre, APR is the Director of Digital Media at Truscott Rossman. She is a PRSA Detroit board member and chair of the social media committee.