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What can crisis communicators teach internal communicators?

BY mikeklein Among the various tribes of communication professionals, one group I have always envied a bit, both for their accomplishments and for the esteem with which they are held, are the crisis specialists, a small, tough and highly effective breed.  Seeing one of the stars of the field, Caroline Sapriel, at a recent IABC regional conference, I had the idea of writing a piece with her.

She thought I wanted to write about what internal communicators needed to know about crisis management.  But I asked her a different question: What can internal communicators learn from crisis communicators about being effective internal communicators?

I thought Caroline had some great insights – about how IC pros can operate in a way that sustains greater effectiveness while drawing on the unique strengths internal communicators bring to the party:

Crisis specialists know that effective crisis preparedness requires structure, discipline and practice

In raising the issues of structure, discipline and practice, the current trend towards ad hoc, always-on cultures is straining the ability of even the most professional communicators to integrate rigor and thinking with demands for a continuous flow of instant, visual, entertaining and easily digestible output through a nearly infinite array of channels. But coherence and the ability to manage and prevent crises depends on a firm commitment to structure and principles, Caroline adds.

As for discipline, that is even more crucial, in terms of being able to ensure that communication activities are aligned with core organizational purposes, and to minimize peripheral and resource-draining distractions that divert attention and focus, especially when crises occur.

Put things on paper, even if they will need to be rewritten

Crisis management makes extensive use of written plans, procedures and processes, particularly as there is no time to improvise in a crisis situation.

Many internal comms practitioners spend quite a bit of time doing things from scratch a lot of the time.  Sometimes creativity requires that things be done from scratch, but a lot of work can be expedited by doing it in standard, replicable ways.  And sometimes new technologies or missions or circumstances will require that processes need to be revised.

Make good use of your ability to obtain and monitor the organization’s attitudinal pulse

In that, a key role of internal comms in a crisis situation is the ability to gain opinions and insights from within the organization, making better use of that ability to shape its own remit and agenda is something internal comms can do both for the organization’s benefit and for its own.

Remember that stakeholders want you to know that you are doing the right thing…by them

In crises, it’s very clear who the stakeholders are, and they all think they are the most important: shareholders, customers, employees, communities, governments.  Employees are the heart and soul of the organization and need to be treated as such, and at the same time, they need to see the broader context and where they fit, which is an area where thoughtful internal comms can be helpful.

Credibility is everything

Whether it is surviving a crisis, or simply sustaining the readership of internal communication channels, Caroline says “credibility is everything – the essential ingredient to avoid or survive any reputational crisis, including one’s own.”

What else can internal communicators learn from other communication disciplines?  Other business disciplines?  I'd like your thoughts.

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