Each year, the Gulf Coast gets put on notice that June 1 begins another hurricane season. As we reach the height of the season today – Sept. 10 – customer and employee senses  heighten along with the tide.

The way a business or organization communicates throughout all stages of any weather event is key to their reputation and how they “weather the storm” with the people and communities that are most important to them.

It all boils down to how expectations are addressed and managed.

Establishing trust every day

During a weather event, the public trusts that businesses and organizations will communicate important information to them. According to a recent article in the Harvard Business Review entitled, “The Trust Crisis,” Authors Sandra J. Sucher and Shalene Gupta examine how companies are assessed at the most fundamental levels and how stakeholders judge the worthiness of companies by these four questions:

  1. Is the company competent?
  2. Is the company motivated to serve others’ interests as well as its own?
  3. Does the company use fair means to achieve its goals?
  4. Does the company take responsibility for all its impact?

When it comes to communicating, being upfront and accurate, and providing information that is honest and clear, were found to be the most important aspects for the public to develop trust with an organization.

The public has expectations

We all have a certain set of expectations for basic life necessities (electricity, water, sewage, Internet, etc.). Depending on where your company or organization comes in – before, during or after a weather event – the public expects certain levels of service and response.

Before a weather event, local elected officials take to the airwaves to provide all types of information, from shelter locations to evacuation orders. Businesses and organizations have things to say too, because the people that are most important to that business or organization want – better yet need – to hear from you.

This need is only amplified during and after a weather event.

When a homeowner returns to their residence following a storm, they expect to flip the switch and for the lights to come on. Hit the remote and the TV turns on. Log on to the web and it connects. Take a grocery store, for example. The public expects to know if you are open. If not, when will you reopen, and are your shelves stocked?

Managing the public’s expectations

The best results come when a business or organization sets the expectations for the people most important to them before, during and after a weather event, by addressing these three things:

  • “This is what we will do.”
  • “This is what we are doing.”
  • “This is what we’ve done and will do next.”

When a storm threatens the Gulf Coast, relaying information to the public is crucial to managing their expectations. A solid communication strategy will have well-defined, thought out messaging that clearly targets the right audience with the right information at the right time. A steady flow of communication will help alleviate stress and remove the unknown factor. Radio silence fuels frustration, so keeping everyone informed via various communication channels, such as local news outlets, social media, SMS (text) messages and company website updates is key to addressing and meeting the public’s expectations.

Engage the news media

The media is a critical partner for the public and businesses alike during a storm. They are the vessel to quickly and continuously deliver vital information to the masses.

In recent years, the local media has changed their approach to covering weather events to more of a “in real-time, as it happens” format. When a storm is approaching our coast, television stations often switch to continuous coverage with wall-to-wall live broadcasts and constant updates via a news ticker on the bottom of the screen. Stations will go live on their social media networks to deliver the latest information as they are receiving it.

The media may want someone readily available that they can check in with throughout the duration of the storm to deliver crucial information to the public about your business or organization as it happens.

When working with the media during a weather event, it is important to consider the following:

  • Keep an updated contact list for local media outlets and individual reporters.
  • Follow reporters and news outlets on social media so you can tweet or share information directly to them.
  • Prepare a holding statement and have a spokesperson readily available to call in or provide an on-camera interview with accurate and timely information.

Bring in reinforcements

A well-managed, external communication strategy presents the opportunity to take the helm and steer the public’s expectations during a storm. Having a plan of action ahead of a weather event will help alleviate a breakdown in communication with key stakeholders, especially when business operations directly affect the masses, such as utilities, infrastructure, schools, transportation, etc. Tropical weather conditions can present the need for situational communication often outside the normal scope of operations for most companies.

Enlisting the help of a crisis communication team can help your business proceed with ease should a weather event threaten our area. Public relations support can provide strategic counsel and a multitude of services throughout all stages of a storm event including:

  • Working as a liaison with the media to coordinate announcements and on-air interviews;
  • Assisting with key message development for interviews, social media and website posts;
  • Preparing and disseminating media releases and statements;
  • Monitoring the news media and social networks for information pertinent to your business operations and/or services; and
  • Providing critical media training for key staff to accurately deliver information in a timely manner.

When the winds calm and the waters subside, how a business or organization set and managed expectations – by keeping the public informed before, during and after a weather event – will determine the storm’s impact on the company’s reputation.