No company plans to have a crisis, but most companies expect to face one at some point. From a cyberattack that shuts down an oil pipeline to a negative Twitter post that results in a brand boycott, crises threaten companies of every size across all industries.
The question is whether a company is prepared to deal with the crisis. With the risk of problems rising, crisis communications experts offer an excellent return on investment.
Pursuing a career in crisis communications typically requires a bachelor’s degree. For example, Arkansas State University (A-State) offers an online Bachelor of Science in Strategic Communication with PR and Advertising Certificate program. Coursework in crisis communication builds the knowledge and skills graduates need to launch a career in this high-stakes public relations role.
What Is Crisis Communications?
Imagine you are a CEO getting the news that hackers have breached the computer systems, jeopardizing trade secrets, sensitive customer data and employees’ personal information. Luckily, you have a crisis communications plan and a crisis communications team ready to jump into action.
Writing for HubSpot, Swetha Amaresan describes crisis communications as the “dissemination of information by an organization to address a crisis that impacts customers and/or the organization’s reputation.”
Indeed identifies the following three phases of crisis management:
- Pre-Crisis: This is the time to reduce risks that may lead to a crisis. Where are a company’s strengths? What are its weaknesses? Social listening is one way to identify issues before they become disasters. Preparing fill-in-the-blank crisis messages in advance is a time-saver when a crisis hits.
- Crisis: Everyone else may be panicking, but crisis communications experts work well under pressure to put a response strategy into action. From the first messages to resolution and recovery, these PR experts communicate with composure and control. Sincere concern for anyone affected by a crisis, along with transparency and accountability, helps preserve trust.
- Post-Crisis: This is the time for reflection. What went right? What did not go as planned? How can we prevent this from happening again? What can we do differently if this happens again?
What Crises Do Companies Need to Prepare For?
A bad Yelp review about a restaurant’s shoddy service might feel like a crisis. But a prompt apology and a coupon for a comped meal may be all it takes to remedy the situation. In comparison, a crisis poses much more serious threats, such as to public safety, a company’s reputation and financial loss.
Cyberattacks are a top threat for many companies. According to Statista, the global average cost of a data breach in 2021 was $4.24 million. Companies face many other types of crises from both internal and external sources. Examples include:
- Unplanned systems outages that disrupt operations
- Employee misconduct
- Natural disasters
- Unethical business practices
- Financial crises, as with the loss of revenue due to labor shortages
- Product recalls
How companies handle a crisis can make the difference between a disaster and recovery. Imagine firing 900 employees over a Zoom call. Better.com’s CEO did this, then followed up by disparaging the employees on a social network. Top executives and board members have since left and the company’s revenue fell as much as 22%, according to TechCrunch.
Compare that to one of 2020’s “best-handled crisis communications responses.” Burger chain Shake Shack faced criticism for receiving loans to help small businesses survive the COVID-19 pandemic. The company quickly announced on LinkedIn, “we’ve decided to immediately return the entire $10 million PPP loan we received last week to the SBA so that those restaurants who need it most can get it now.”
Protecting a company’s reputation is a priority in crisis communications. But, as the Shake Shack example demonstrates, that begins with making ethical decisions.
In today’s job market, strong communication skills may be a deciding factor in hiring decisions. When any number of crises could devastate a company, grads with crisis communication skills have an edge.