Here are the top tips on crisis communication for startups
The pandemic and the resultant lockdown have been tough on the startup ecosystem. A lot of them are struggling to maintain operations while they look for a new way of re-inventing themselves.
However, while they pivot, they must remain vigilant on corporate reputation and ensure that it survives the stress caused by the pandemic and resulting lockdown.
Crisis preparedness in business terms might be quick but managing PR and reputation might not typically be high up on their cards. However, as a startup, reputation is everything. People invest in them, customers invest in a product or service because of their reputation. Their brand equity is way higher than that of their product.
And if this pandemic has taught us anything, this should be on the top of their list as much as survival. When they learn to protect it at all costs, they can live to fight another day.
Crisis PR plan
Pull up your crisis communication plan, which you would have only put together at the start of the association with your PR agency. If you have not made one, make one now.
Arrive at one clear communication message that you would like to put out there. Multiple messaging does not help anyone and only ends up confusing the media and your end customer.
You, your leadership team, and your communications lead need to sit down together and identify one core communication message you would like to send out.
Identify the right spokesperson
It is imperative that the spokesperson is from the founding team. This is the time when internal and external stakeholders would like to see the founders in action. They want to know what they are doing and how important this crisis is for them.
So, the designation of the person that you choose to herald the crisis communication piece will signify the importance and weightage that the founding team and the startup is giving to this crisis.
So, choose your spokesperson carefully. Make sure that they are fluent in the language they are speaking in and the style of communication required for the crisis.
Put together a war room and a core team to take quick decisions before it goes out to the press. This should have your PR agency, communications head, marketing and sales, legal, and HR so that all aspects of decisions and their ramifications are considered before it is released.
Your PR agency must run point on crisis communication because they are the most suited and best people for the job. They understand the nuances of the business and are privy to the internal dynamics of media houses and will be able to work that to your advantage.
Encourage them to be proactive and maintain a consistent channel of communication.
Make sure that you communicate to your internal audience, as well as your external audiences. Keep them in the loop.
Keep your internal channels of communication open so that your team can ask you questions. Hold a quick townhall if possible and allay their fears before you start communicating externally. Remember, that your team is your biggest champion and supporter.
When your external and internal communication is in sync you will reap double the benefits.
Do not shy away from calling out or reaching out to publications and journalists who might have gotten the wrong end of the stick. It could be very likely that they are being fed information or are being misled by competition.
Reach out to them to clarify and educate them on the error. Use this opportunity to give them a unique story peg that can help them create an interesting narrative.
Collaboration over competition
Consider this if possible. If the crisis is industry-wide and your competition not faring any better than you, then consider creating a collaborative communication approach. You will not only be the champion of the industry but will win goodwill among the competition, as well as media for giving a unified voice to the industry.
Collaborate and work together to ask for government support and mediation from industry bodies. Be the voice. This will help you garner more positive and credible visibility than an individual startup battling a mammoth crisis.
Stand by your customer
It could be a tough time for everyone in a crisis. This includes your team and customers. An empathetic approach towards a customer will win you more brownie points than lashing out at them or getting into a blame game.
While it is understood that you possibly cannot please everyone, use as many opportunities as possible to speak to your customer and win them over to your side.
Walk the talk
And last but not the least, the most important point. Make sure that your startup walks the talk. It is very essential that whatever they are promising out there, whatever messaging they are putting out there…you get it done.
This might not in your mind be a direct responsibility of a comms function, but the repercussions of unkept promises have far-reaching repercussions that will haunt you and your credibility for life.
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)