Unfolding Lessons in the Wake of Crisis Management

Sandra Fancher

Sandra Fancher

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Even the best plans will be tested during a crisis. Having worked with clients on crisis strategy plans for over two decades, reflection is one of the most important disciplines to employ.

While you can’t predict everything, a well-built plan will serve you well. Your goal is to create rapid, centralized responses and avoid inconsistent and unaware messaging.

As COVID-19 unfolded very quickly, I saved ads and emails that didn’t seem appropriate to do my own reflection and crisis review. Now that we are past the phase of “will this happen” to “it is happening,” I’m sharing my reflections for others to use in evaluating their plans.

Immediately

In the early days of a crisis, your first line of defense is to pause your scheduled posts and emails if you are uncertain and not fully confident the message is correct. It’s crucial for your clients’ sake to take inventory of current and planned assets. You don’t want to be mistaken for being “salesy,” offensive, or oblivious to the crisis.

Within the first few days I was presented through sponsored posts or emails with:

  • On March 13th, one day after all Iowa high school sports were postponed and club soccer cancelled, I received an email with the headline “Spring soccer camps are filling up fast, register now.”
  • Also on March 13th, a colleague shared this image for hot desking (co-working spaces) as physical distancing recommendations were being rolled out.
  • On March 14th, someone commented that this ad for toilet paper showed in their Twitter feed.

Such seemingly innocuous messages can agitate an already anxious audience. People worry about their kids’ health and education. They worry about their budgets and how they’ll make due when provisions (like toilet paper) are in short supply.

These foibles are examples of why, no matter your industry, you must scrutinize all scheduled and planned messaging when an unsettling situation begins. Considering starting with these areas for your next messaging review:

  • Update the main and affected pages of your site
    • Add a banner message that indicates you are aware of and are working to manage the situation. Make sure it’s client-facing.
      • For example, this message appeared on a hospital website which does not include any personal message or contact information
  • Ideally, you’ll know whether this functionality is available before a crisis
  • Pause your campaigns (or clients’ campaigns)
    • SEM and paid search
    • Scheduled social posts
    • Email campaigns, especially prescheduled emails
  • Review autoresponders or out of office messaging
    • Instant messenger automatic responses
    • Out-of-office messages
    • Centralized voice messenger services

Ensure several people on your team are trained to update content and review outgoing messages. If all the duties fall just to one person or department, your team will get overwhelmed.

In the Following Days

Determine your content messaging needs. This includes internal, client-facing, vendor, and community messaging. Assign key duties to each of these audiences.

Often, teams feel compelled to create an abundance of new content. Sometimes this is necessary. More often, it leads to getting more overwhelmed and frustrated—and taking longer to reach your audiences.

Date Your Content Updates

Content was quickly out of date and what you said a week ago could make you look out-of-touch. Make sure you clearly note the date. Ideally you can edit your first article or previously created content. You can make editor’s notes to reflect updates (Updated Feb. 12; Updated Feb. 22) without losing your SEO ranking.

Evaluate Upcoming Events

In situations where you will face cancellation or postponement of events, it’s OK to say you aren’t sure what will happen next. Audiences appreciate transparency and honesty. Acknowledge the situation and communicate your decision-making process. Make sure your message includes the following:

  • Monitoring frequency
  • Final decision
  • How you will update people
  • If appropriate, financial reimbursement information

As the Situation Unfolds

Clients and collaborators need reassurance that you are there for them. That you are watching out for their best interests. That you are a partner in their time of need.

You will be viewed as a voice of reason. And it will be exhausting. But it is important to continue communicating with your team and your audience.

Though everyone will be running at full speed, carve out time to speculate and prepare for potential scenarios:

  • If X should happen, how would our clients react?
  • What information will we need?
  • How will we deliver that information?
  • Who will be the point person?
  • What measurements will we need to set in motion?
  • How can we best support our clients? Will our clients need financial or project adjustments?

Document these ideas—we recommend recording the session—so you have a tentative plan in place should the situation arise.

Impact on Print Schedules

If your printed publication is already being printed, consider adding a cover page or a sticker pointing readers to your website for latest updates.

Reflection

When crises happen, it can feel endless. More often, the pain is temporary. But the lessons should be ongoing.

If you didn’t have one before, you likely now appreciate the idea of assigning a SWAT team for crisis marketing. When COVID-19 broke, Stamats activated our CRAM (Crisis Response Action Marketing) team to cover the pandemic across all our digital properties. The team includes digital strategists, content creators, and data specialists.

This experience allowed us to pinpoint areas of opportunity in our processes. We took time to reflect on the CRAM program through debriefing meetings and analysis of results. In taking those moments throughout the frenzy, we can carry forward our learnings and be even more prepared when the next crisis hits. Both for our own audiences and as strategic partners in support of our clients’ initiatives.

Want to learn more? Schedule a free consultation with Sandra today.

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