In my work as a volunteer crisis counselor and mental health advocate, I meet people from different walks of life who are experiencing a range of difficulties. My main goal with our interactions is to help them move from a “hot” moment to a “calm and collected” one. Then, with this calmer mindset, they are better able to tackle whatever issue they are facing.
As a communications professional, I also deal with crises. Within the realm of crisis communications, we work to support other professionals and organizations in managing the messaging during and after a crisis situation.
While the approaches I use for personal and organizational crises are different, they share a few similarities. Below I describe how my training and experiences as a crisis counselor help with crisis communications as a PR pro.
Cool and calm
Think back to the last personal crisis you endured. You probably remember feeling overwhelmed and anxious. In crisis counselor training, we learn strategies to help individuals in crisis feel cooler and calmer. These strategies can include deep breathing, meditation, lying down, or calling a loved one. They help because they temporarily take the mind’s focus off of the crisis situation.
It can be difficult to maintain a cool and calm demeanor when dealing with a crisis as an organization. That’s why here at Bospar we work with our clients to develop a solid communications plan ahead of a crisis. Then when they face a crisis, event or circumstance that negatively impacts their reputation, credibility or brand, there is a roadmap to help them navigate it successfully. Even just knowing such a plan is in place can help reduce the anxiety and stress of these situations.
Speed and urgency
As a crisis counselor, speed can sometimes mean the difference between life and death. The stakes are usually not as high when it comes to crisis communications, but speed still matters. Think about it. When a brand you love makes a mistake, you don’t want to wait a long time for them to respond and correct the situation. The same concept applies to crisis communications, which is why we advise clients to incorporate into their plans a key step of having a rapid and transparent response to the public ready to go as quickly as possible.
Open and honest
Make a connection. This is how we establish a relationship of trust as quickly as possible in crisis counseling. When it comes to PR, we try to be the “ethical compass” for our clients through standards of accountability and professionalism that are beyond reproach.
What does this look like? Success here means communication and messaging that is clear and transparent. Not all details need to be made public, but the overall messaging needs to truthful and keep the public and other stakeholders informed.
An important aspect of a crisis communication plan is to make sure there is consistency in messaging. We work with clients to pre-script messages as templates with blanks that can be filled in as needed. These can be approved by leadership in advance and made available for quick editing and release when situations arise.
Often organizations and brands are judged by the public on the basis of how they handle crisis situations. It can be an opportunity to shine and lead…or to fail miserably.
These are just a few of the lessons from crisis counseling we can apply to the PR world. Crisis communications is challenging. But when done correctly and properly planned, these situations can turn into moments for brands to emerge as leaders.
If you or a loved one are struggling with your mental health and thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, available 24 hours a day, at 1-800-273-8255.