Let’s take a look at The Flip Side of our last blog post about how to turn a PR problem into a positive using Target’s example about breastfeeding. Because we’re not employees, we don’t know how Target communicated internally about the string of events and how they advised their employees on how to handle customer complaints and questions in stores. We can, however, use it as an example about how companies can stick to some guiding principles to proactively communicate with their employees when a PR issue or crisis arises.
Be timely: Get the word out to your employees quickly. Don’t wait for the storm to get worse or blow over. Your employees should hear about important events affecting them and their company from an internal source rather than an external one. Well-informed associates can serve as informal ambassadors of the company. Proactive communications with your employees helps them better communicate with customers who might ask them questions. Tactics can include:
- Check in with your cross-functional team of go-to people from HR, Operations, Legal, Marketing, Social Media and of course any leaders who need to know. Keep them in the loop of your communications plan of action and get their input on communications. Don’t forget external communications folks if they are in a separate department. They should be integral partners. Internal and external communications should be aligned.
- Let your employees know about the situation through your regular channels as soon as possible. Keep them in the loop on an ongoing basis. Even if you don’t have all the facts, communicate this is what we know now. We’ll keep you updated when we know more.
- Create a central source of information on your intranet. Don’t bury information so employees have to search to find it. All communications should be visible here and should point employees to this central location for all the info they need. Post a link to important documents like the company policy involved to reinforce the correct actions.
Be open and honest. Let your employees know what happened. Don’t leave out details you think your employees can’t handle. Transparency builds credibility. Be forthright. Let them know if the company screwed up. Tell them what should have been done and what will be done to handle the situation. Tactics can include:
- Make your top execs visible. Think about a thoughtful and sincere CEO blog or video addressing the situation with employees.
- Arm managers with tools such as talking points to inform and discuss the issue, explain how the company is handling it, reinforce the company’s policy and where to get additional information.
- Create talking points for frontline employees who speak with customers in person or on the phone. How should they handle customer questions or complaints? Keep the message consistent and clear companywide.
Two-way: Keep the lines of communication open. In the face of a serious issue or crisis, employees will have questions and concerns. You need their feedback to know how to communicate differently or better. Tactics can include:
- Create a central point of contact to field questions and concerns. Depending on the PR issue, you might want to create a special internal email box or hotline.
- Ask managers to forward any questions they are getting from their teams.
- If your intranet platform lets employees post comments, use them to gauge how well you’re communicating.
- Refresh your communications if you see a pattern of questions or comments.
Sometimes PR problems bring out the best in a company. As mentioned in our previous blog, they can help establish your company as an industry leader and give your employees a chance to shine under pressure. If you hear about an extraordinary example of how an employee handled a situation related to the issue, share the story with the rest of the company. It shows appreciation, boosts morale and lets employees know they can make a difference even during difficult moments.