By TIM LEON
In 2020, more than one in five workplace deaths occurred in the construction industry, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. While your company may have great safety protocols in place, the fact is that accidents can still happen, and how you communicate with the public and employees in the wake of a tragic event can make or break your reputation.
Is your company prepared to handle the media inquiries that will come your way if an employee is seriously injured or killed on the job? What about if violence erupts at the workplace, or if a facility you built is found to have a structural problem that has harmed or could harm occupants?
With that in mind, here are the top things to know about communicating during a crisis.
It’s important for companies in the construction industry – builders, architects, engineers, electricians and others – to have in place a crisis public relations plan to help preserve your reputation as you navigate requests for information from media and the public.
A PR plan allows an organized response during a chaotic time
When a crisis event occurs, obviously your first objective is to mitigate further injury or damage, making sure people are safe. Handling media requests will need to be a priority as well. That’s where having a solid crisis communications plan comes in handy. You will already know who the spokesperson(s) will be, and you’ll have guidance on constructing talking points. You’ll also know how you will notify your company’s various audiences: employees/families, media, business partners/sub-contractors, neighboring businesses or residents and government officials, as appropriate.
Having a pre-determined crisis team and communication plan in place will reduce the anxiety that comes with handling a stressful event and instead give you a better sense of control over the situation.
“No Comment” can backfire
These days, a “no comment” response appears to the public as trying to hide something. It’s always best to be forthright and to do it in a brief, measured way.
If you decide not to face the TV cameras and microphones right away, you can instead release a statement to the media. This allows you to control your message and also satisfies reporters and editors eager to get a response of some kind for their story.
Failing to provide information can result in media coverage that is one-sided or inaccurate, putting your company in a bad light.
What to say
With integrity and honesty as your guides, find ways to communicate only the relevant information, with no speculation or extraneous details that can muddle the message. Don’t release figures unless you’re certain about the accuracy.
Draft talking points, rehearse them and stick to them. A PR professional can help develop the points and provide media training to prepare the spokesperson to handle unexpected or “trick” questions. No matter the question, it’s important to return to the talking points as much as possible when responding.
Don’t be afraid to express sorrow or sadness about the loss of life or property. It’s important to carefully word media statements and talking points for interviews to show your humanity while also factually stating what has occurred.
Monitor social media
Thanks to social media, negative news can spread rapidly, often before the media even picks up on it. It only takes one person on the scene to Tweet or post about the event and the word is out. That’s why it’s important to actively monitor your social accounts and respond appropriately and with empathy. Again, as with the media, stick to the facts and keep it brief.
Micro-site for updates
For an ongoing or extended crisis, it can be helpful to create a micro-website to post regular updates. Direct reporters and the public to the site so they feel connected to the latest news.
Finally, keep the messaging consistent across all channels – media statements, talking points for interviews, press releases, social posts and websites. Frequent updates will help quell rumors and allow your side of the story to be told.
Having a crisis PR plan can considerably reduce the chances of a negative incident harming your company’s reputation. Instead, you’ll be able to minimize the impact of the crisis and protect your standing in the community as a builder of integrity.
Tim Leon is president of Geile/Leon Marketing Communications. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.