Crisis Communication is emotion management. f done correctly, it can prevent negative consequences such as loss of confidence or image in crises and conflicts.
In this interview, Brigitte Kaltwasser, agency owner, talks about what must be paid attention to in a crisis situation.
What is the first step in a crisis?
Kaltwasser: Pause and keep calm. The biggest challenge is knowing that you are dealing with a crisis, and how to classify it. Especially a crisis that starts insidiously is often not recognised as such until later. And that’s what makes it such a challenge, because every crisis is different and ultimately there are no generally applicable rules or warning signs.
Is there such a thing as a crisis checklist?
Kaltwasser: Yes and no. Every crisis is different. I warn against checklists for the entire crisis situation, and instead I recommend that each one is looked at separately. This does not mean, however, that you cannot prepare for it in a professional way. Individual sub-processes within crisis management should be prepared for using checklists and recommendations, so that you can use them in an emergency.
What exactly is the aim of crisis communication?
Kaltwasser: The aim of crisis management is to contain the crisis and to get back to normally structured everyday life. Metaphorically speaking, returning to calm waters from stormy seas. This can only succeed by restoring confidence. Not allowing a crisis to arise in the first place or warding it off early is of course even better.
What are the basic principles that must be paid attention in an acute crisis?
Kaltwasser: There are five general principles: Systematic preparation, quick reaction, internal communication before external communication, stringent and consistent messages, visibility and availability. In addition, crisis management is above all emotion management: the psychological mechanisms of action must be borne in mind. Assuming moral responsibility is not the same as admission of guilt. The people affected are not usually able to react in a professional or neutral way. Victims and perpetrators often do not have a clear view of things, especially from the point of view of those affected. Different truths and different perspectives are the greatest challenge in crisis communication. Anyone can learn the trade, but first you have to understand, recognise and be able to deal with the psychological basis.
In an acute crisis, would you recommend getting external advisers involved – doing "crisis outsourcing”?
Kaltwasser: Often, that’s the right choice, especially because in a company, crisis manager and press officer are also affected. Companies benefit from external advice, especially regarding professionalism, experience with crisis situations and an objective point of view. External advisers are not involved to the same extent, which is why they can be much more effective when it comes to managing the crisis team and implementing measures. This is particularly true when we are dealing with home-grown, insidious and internal company crises.
What is the significance of crisis communication in a company?
Kaltwasser: A crisis plan should be in place in every company and they should regularly think about crisis scenarios. Whether it’s a one-man business, an artisan company or a large corporation: Crises come unannounced and at any time and professional crisis management largely means thinking about it in advance. It is usually too late for the first media training sessions, for example, when the crisis has already started.