The weeks before and after New Year’s were extremely difficult, and I feel as though I have been moving in crisis mode the entire time. I made the rookie mistake of thinking the holiday season would be quiet and afford me catch-up time. Instead, my email set the priorities as clients had last-minute, before-the-end-of-the-year requests. Plus, as usual, I had added too much to my to-do list, and my kids were home from school.
While it could have been a complete disaster, what happened to my professional work was instead extraordinary—I actually was able to look at each list, each client request, the different pulls on my time, and decide on a priority for each. In those two weeks, I understood why the same Chinese character is used to represent both crisis and opportunity. While prioritization has been challenging for me, when forced to do it, I did–with satisfying and positive results.
Developing Crisis Communications Skills
I assume firefighters or anyone who deals with daily crisis has this skill as well—they quickly assess a burning house or situation and decide where to point the hose first. While working in crisis mode is not good for anyone in the long term, there are lessons content marketers can take from crisis management teams.
If you read about crisis communications teams, two mandates emerge:
- Identify who is responsible for what ahead of time
- Make sure everyone understands the messaging, and how to communicate it to their different constituencies
This falls directly in line with building a great digital communications strategy team: every person on the team should understand his or her role; every person should understand how to break down and communicate the messaging with all the different types of customers you have.
Everyone hates fire drills, but they are useful and instructive: they demonstrate to fire wardens how prepared people are to evacuate. I was in a federal building on September 11, 2001 and I understand how important it is to get people out quickly and safely. So practice crisis communications drills with your teams so they can develop important skills.
Here are some activities to get you started.
Ask your team to make a decision on a major issue in 20 minutes
They can brainstorm, make suggestions or argue with each other, but when 20 minutes is up, they MUST have an answer. After a few weeks of this exercise, you will see a streamlining of thought, an unconscious appointing of the appropriate spokesperson for the group and a willingness to make tough decisions without “paralysis by analysis.”
Emphasize cause and effect
In a crisis, actions are measured by reactions. This is true during more relaxed times but teams do not see it as clearly. Force them to. Walk them through the methodical steps of measuring a digital communications action. See what effects that has. You may stop playing the spaghetti game (just throwing stuff out there and seeing what sticks).
Work with what you have
Often, communications teams put off making important decisions because they don’t think they have enough information in the moment. Guess what? In real life you aren’t able to see around every corner. Stop trying. Instead, take the information you have in hand and force the issue—your team will start thinking about working with what they have, instead of waiting for manna to fall from heaven.
Learn to listen with passion
Crisis communications fails often because the organization under attack addresses the facts, not the feelings. Do we care that BP tested that blower thing, or whatever it was, 300 hundred times? No, the end result is that they ruined an entire ecosystem, jobs, lifestyles and hope for the future. People feel strongly about those things. Teach your team to read users’ emails, answer phone calls and respond to analytics with feelings—your users have them and you should as well.
Hold morbidity and mortality conferences
Doctors review what happened on a case after a patient dies so lessons can be learned by the entire team. During high crisis times, many teams will meet at late hours to review the happenings of the day. Have your team review each and every project. Pick one hour a month and let one person from the team tell the story behind the project. Then let the other members of the team pick it apart. This exercise will teach your team to think of what might happen, not just what is happening.
Any other suggestions for getting your digital communications team thinking on their feet? Comments are always appreciated—they’re like my morbidity and mortality conference for the next blog post.