Crisis Communications Planning for Home Care Companies
Care Business

Crisis Communications Planning for Home Care Companies

5 min read

The greatest marketing tool you have as a home care business is your reputation.

If your reputation is solid - for delivering great care and making a real difference to the lives of older people - your business is built on strong foundations.

Which is why if something goes wrong it can harm your business in ways that can be hard to fathom.

A crisis can take many forms - a poor CQC report, a rogue staff member, an incident while providing care in the home, an online attack from a disgruntled family member…

Let’s take a look at how to prepare a 9-part crisis communications plan so you never get caught out and can keep your business thriving.

Here’s a summary of what we’ll cover:

  • How to prepare your communications systems so you know how you’ll respond in a crisis.
  • Why it’s important that a member of your team is media trained.
  • Drafting media statements and getting your key messages right for the media.
  • Recovering from a crisis – how to put things right and to keep all of your costumers and staff on board in the long term.
Pre-crisis phase

Pre-crisis phase

This is when everything is going well in your business.

And THIS is the moment of maximum preparedness for a crisis response.

What does that look like?

Building a strong and lasting reputation with your customers, employees and stakeholders.

These are very much the people who you are going to rely on in a crisis to defend you and your account of events, so you need them to trust you NOW, not when things are challenging.

This may seem obvious, but be open and transparent in your day to day communications right now.

Media training

Media training

More often than not in a crisis you will not need/want to go on camera to give your side of the story, a written statement may be best.

However, you must always be ready – particularly if the crisis is extremely serious in nature.

Putting a human face to your response can help rebuild trust. 

But you need to ensure that it is the right human.

They must have received media training

In a crisis the journalist’s questions are likely to be pretty direct/aggressive so you must practice answering this style of interview.

If you’ve never undergone a media grilling before it can be a little daunting. 

If you’re not prepared you could inadvertently say something which could worsen the situation, not improve it.

When you undertake your media training make sure your trainer makes it as realistic as possible. You don’t want them to be polite.

If you don’t practice for that boxing match, the first punch could put you on your back.

Risk register

Risk register

In this context the risk register is used so you can identify in advance those areas of the business that are most likely to cause issues from an operational or financial perspective.

But when you think about it these are precisely the sort of issues that could cause you a problem from a reputational perspective too.

These risks will be very specific to your business, but a good tip here is to plan for the worst, no matter how unlikely you think it may be.

Once you know what risks you could possibly face as a business you can then move on to the next stage of your crisis communication plan.

Get the message right

Agreeing your key message, and sticking to it, is critical in any crisis response.

To do this you need to agree these messages in advance.

These messages will, of course, need to be tailored to the specific situation when the crisis hits, but there are some overarching messages that you can have in place.

Example key messages in a crisis

  • We would sincerely like to apologise that our customers have been impacted by the failure of our service. That was never our intention and we are working tirelessly to put this right.
  • The safety and wellbeing of our customers is our highest priority and we have now launched an immediate investigation to discover what went wrong.
  • As a family business we are committed to our local community and we will strive to put this right.
  • Our business is built on a culture of openness and transparency and we will continue to update you in the coming days as we work to overcome this problem.
  • On this occasion we failed to meet our own high standards but we are committed to improving and we will learn from this.

These types of message, or a variation on this theme, should always be at the heart of your crisis communication response.

Get the message right

Empathy is everything in a crisis response

This is absolutely critical when it comes to responding in a crisis situation, especially in social care.

Whether you’re dealing with journalists, influencers, customers or employees you must take a humble tone in a crisis.

Do not stonewall, do not dismiss criticism and do not attack your critics (apart from in exceptional circumstances).

An empathetic and humbled tone will buy you space to respond to the actual crisis which your business faces. 

Your messages must not be tone-deaf to the seriousness of the situation. If this crisis is a big deal for your customers it MUST be a big deal for you too.

Accuracy in crisis communication

Accuracy in crisis communication

This is another must-have, and for two key reasons.

If something goes wrong in your business you very quickly need to conduct a rapid assessment of the situation to get an overview of the key facts. 

What happened when and who knew what is a good start.

No one will expect you to know everything – how could they – but you must have a grasp on the basics of the crisis.

Having a good grasp of the main facts will ensure that whatever public statements you issue cannot be contradicted at a later date.

Secondly, if there is a subsequent legal investigation into this crisis then you do not want any conflict between your communications and crucial evidence.

Transparency as a tool of crisis communication

Transparency as a tool of crisis communication

The more open and transparent you can be in your response then the more likely you are to minimise the damage.

Of course, there is always a tension between the need to be transparent and the requirement to protect the privacy of certain individuals, especially in healthcare.

In addition, if your crisis is the subject of a live police investigation then you are very much restricted in terms of what you can say publicly.

Make sure you have legal advice

Judging how transparent, or not, you can be is often a legal question – to a degree – that’s why I recommend having a legal expert on your core crisis communication team. 

Outside of these restrictions you really must try to be as open and transparent as possible in your crisis communications.

Why?

Well, think of any situation in life. 

The more open people are with you the more likely you are to trust them.

Speed in crisis communications

Speed in crisis communications

The speed of your response is critical.

But note that I have listed this several points after ‘accuracy’ in terms of what you must get right. 

That’s deliberate.

If inaccurate information finds its way online, issued by your business, it can be very hard to set the record straight.

So, get your facts right first in a crisis and then…

Be fast. 

Be very fast.

Social media has made crisis communication a real-time endeavour. 

Your reputation is being discussed and criticised minute by minute during a crisis and you need to be leading that conversation.

Recovery phase in crisis communication

Recovery phase in crisis communication

Once you’re through those first few adrenaline-fuelled days there can be a temptation to think ‘thank golly that’s over, let’s just get back to normal now’.

But that is a mistake.

You now need to enter the recovery phase of your crisis communication plan.

Now your attention should really shift from the immediate media relations crisis to rebuilding your reputation in the eyes of your customers, employees, investors, suppliers and even your local community.

These are the people who really matter the most to your business, and decide whether or not it will survive.

Build confidence once more

The impact of a high volume of negative media coverage will not only have rocked these people it will also have left a trail of destruction to your online profile.

And, the bad news is that these stories will be there for a while putting the skids on your reputation (thanks Google!)

Let the story of the recovery be your new story and gradually, over time your reputation both online and offline will recover.

Don’t expect miracles, this will take time, but things will improve if you stick at it – and it can actually be the source of some positive free PR

Head in the sand is no strategy for recovery from a crisis – you must engage.