By Brett Zielke
Crisis communications is an interesting area within the broader field of communications that – in today’s world and current climate – is both very important, and to the public, not often recognized as such. I know I didn’t realize this until working in public relations.
During my internship at Edelman Public Relations, I quickly realized that crisis communications was the area that most interested me. How companies interpret and react to unforeseen events, planned marketing gone awry, a natural disaster or operational incident, really varies from industry to industry and incident to incident, meaning there is no set playbook for it. From a communications perspective, this means that each issue presents its own unique challenges and helps to keep the work engaging and thought provoking.
I was fortunate enough to be paired with a manager at Edelman who works as a crisis communications consultant, Jessica Fralick, who was nice enough to chat with me more about the specialty, her role, and what led her to it.
Going into university, Fralick knew she wanted to be a writer or journalist and realized that a degree in communications was the best path to achieve this. “I’m from a small town and my knowledge of writing jobs consisted of being a journalist at the small community newspaper that had weekly stories of local middle school soccer games and seniors home renovations. I knew I didn’t want to do that. I just needed to find out what kinds of writing jobs existed,” she says. “Once I graduated from university, I applied for any and all jobs that had communications in the title.”
After moving around between in-house marketing and communications jobs, Fralick was offered a role at Edelman, originally on the digital communications team. While this role did fit with her background, it wasn’t her true interest. “I know digital communications, but what I was really interested in was how issues evolved and blew up online. The drama. Watching the patterns and learning what makes the internet world explode was really fascinating. Because of that, I was eager to help support on crisis files and eventually, I transitioned into working in the crisis and issues space, full-time.”
She quickly took to this role and realized how much she truly enjoyed the challenges that came with it, and the gratification of coming up with solutions. “Risk mitigation is the best, because it allows you to solve a problem before anyone knows it exists. I also enjoy managing a communications response to an issue. A proper communications response can often make or break the reputation of a company – so it’s extremely important.”
The variation of each crisis presents with it a different set of potential fallouts and solutions, which Fralick says helps to keep it interesting, bringing “new learnings and challenges.”
Crisis communications is valuable in more than one way and cannot be understated in the value to a company’s public image and overall lifespan. “A communications response in a time of crisis can have major reputational implications for a company. A successful communications response can actually end up building trust with a brand, while a poor response can have major reputational, and sometimes financial, impacts to the business. The companies that do the best communications in a crisis situation are the ones that plan and prepare for them. In many instances, the incidents could never be known in advance, but there are procedures and activations that can be put in place, that can help communicators be prepared in times of crisis.”