crisis management

Effectively Communicating with Stakeholders in a Crisis

January 11, 2023

Ask any industry expert what to expect in 2023 and you’ll probably get a shrug and a comment like “that’s the million-dollar question.”

While the landscape is no longer predictable, what they can say with relative certainty is that it’s not going to be overwhelmingly positive. That means businesses and corporations need to start planning for the unknown and anticipating the unexpected. This can appear daunting, but with the right business precautions and communication preparation, it will allow organizations to minimize any negative impacts, and likely help them come back even stronger.

Whether it’s a drop in stock price, an economic downturn or an isolated issue impacting your organization, timely communication with key stakeholders is paramount in making sure that the issue is proactively contextualized and fact-based without a false narrative.

Every organization has a range of influential stakeholders so taking the time to identify priority groups and best forms of engagement across different scenarios helps maintain trust and continue relationship-building. These stakeholders can range from internal employees to federal regulators and having a plan in place to optimize engagement and ensure impactful, consistent messaging makes all the difference in helping prevent a serious long-term business and reputation threat.

Another critical piece of managing stakeholder communications is evaluating the severity of an issue and determining whether it’s better to reach out to the specific individuals proactively or reactively. Every situation and organization is different, but it’s imperative to develop a clear threshold to identify the severity of a given issue and plot out appropriate and rationale responses. Depending on the situation, strong stakeholder engagement can help neutralize detractors or activate advocates. Each situation is unique, so reactive and proactive outreach should be determined on a case-by-case basis to avoid further amplifying an issue.

As we move into the new year of economic uncertainty and an environment of more demanding consumer expectations, the following best practices can help organizations ensure they are swift and effective in communicating with key stakeholders.

Identify and analyze your stakeholder groups

Prior to communicating with stakeholders, organizations must understand who they are. Leveraging social media monitoring tools as well as existing relationships will allow companies to better understand their connections, expectations, risks and opportunities to mitigate potential issues.

Map relationship owners to key stakeholders for outreach

Stakeholders expect to hear from you, but it’s important to make sure they are hearing from the right leaders within the organization. Organizations should understand the key stakeholders and the relationships that exist, so that they can be communicated with quickly and through the right voices.

Leverage the appropriate channels

Communication channels will be dependent on the stakeholder group and how you historically reach that audience. Whether it be through direct outreach, town hall meetings for employees, email alerts or social platforms, there are a number of channels to amplify your messages. Using the right one will be critical to success.

Develop customized, yet consistent messaging for each stakeholder group

While some key audiences will require varying levels of information, it is important for organizations to speak in a consistent voice to ensure a cohesive narrative when engaging with key audiences. Creating key messaging that can be adapted for various groups will ensure that there is a consistent thread in all communications. Additionally, message testing through focus groups and other data analytics will help organizations be better positioned to deliver the messages that resonate with their key audiences.

Temper response depending on the issue/crisis

Not all crises hold the same weight; therefore, it will be important for organizations to evaluate the severity of the issue to determine the appropriate spokespersons to put forth when communicating with stakeholders. For example, only use the CEO and other leadership voices when necessary to avoid elevating the issue. Instead, other subject matter experts may be better suited to address an issue (e.g., a DEI leader who can provide credibility to conversation around racial issues).

Train messengers

Provide training to internal stakeholders who are engaging with key audiences, so they feel comfortable and are well-practiced to deliver your core messages. Training will enable messengers to communicate effectively both in direct communication settings and potentially in televised media interviews, when appropriate.

Correct misinformation as soon as possible

Misinformation can spread rapidly and quickly alter the narrative. Organizations should move fast to make sure stakeholders are getting the right information and, where needed, can provide the necessary context for stakeholders to understand the full landscape of the issue at hand.

When a potential issue is identified, communicating to the right people promptly is paramount in preventing a full-blown crisis. When a stakeholder communication plan is thoughtfully planned and meticulously executed, it is often the reason why a company or organization can overcome the potential issue and ultimately come back stronger by retaining trust and support from key stakeholders.

Click here for more info on APCO Worldwide’s crisis and issues management capabilities and experience.

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