Three Big Crisis Communication Mistakes Apartment Operators Make

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Apartment fires, vehicle break-ins, home invasions, renovation inconveniences, stolen pets …

Crises like these happen every single day at apartment communities across the country. Not a single community is immune from these nuisances. Yet, some apartment owner/operators don’t have comprehensive policies and procedures in place to respond to crises immediately and mitigate the risk of brand or financial damage.

Even the most sophisticated and large apartment owner/operators with strong plans in place have room for improvement in resident, media and other communications. Here are a few common mistakes we’ve encountered that should be avoided to ensure your crisis communications program is on point:

Leaving communication solely to legal and risk management
Don’t get me wrong, legal and risk management play a very valuable role in crisis communication and should be part of the process. But their roles often don’t include managing the emotional reaction of residents. A professional communicator has a better understanding of the emotional elements at play in a crisis. The emotional elements cannot be undervalued because residents and the public are much more inclined to formulate opinions and take action based on emotion rather than logic.

For that reason, I highly recommend letting a professional communicator own the crisis communication process with input from legal and risk management. If you don’t have someone on your team who is capable of handling this aspect of crisis communications, retain a PR agency with crisis experience in real estate – preferably multifamily.

Blaming the victim, and not even realizing it
It’s fairly common in crisis notifications to state that safety is the responsibility of the resident. While this is a true statement in public life in general, one of those residents is the victim and your notice just blamed them for the crime. Publicly blaming a victim for any crime, especially violent ones, is not only unwise but also insensitive in the eyes of the public.

The inclusion of this statement is often a result of trying to mitigate the financial risk to the asset or company. But the end result might be an increase in financial risk. In certain circumstances, large numbers of residents become very upset, post negative reviews and sometimes even file legal action against the community fueled by an emotional reaction to the communication. Every communication must account for the potential emotional reaction to every word. Just because what you say is logically or legally correct doesn’t mean it should be included in the crisis communication. Responsibility for safety and security is clear in the lease agreement. Reiterating it immediately after an incident only incites a negative emotional response that can get out of control.

Believing the right words (rather than actions) will save the day
The words you use after a crisis occurs onsite matter, but they themselves aren’t going to save you from criticism or make the crisis go away. What you do after the crisis is what really matters to residents. A recent Case Western Reserve University study published in the Harvard Business Review found that empathy alone isn’t enough to solve resident complaints. They want action.

When a crisis occurs at your community, you need to first determine what you are going to do about it before you decide what you are going to say. Are you going to increase courtesy patrols, ask the police to stop by the community more often, install security cameras, install a security gate, adjust your policies, change your renovation schedule, etc.? Determine what you’re going to do (if it’s necessary) before you craft that communication so you can include it in the notice. Residents always want to know what you’re going to do when you speak, no matter how small the complaint or how serious the crisis. The more serious, the more you probably need to do.

Crisis communication is in no way easy or even scientific. It requires experience, creativity, emotional IQ, expertise and a willingness to take action.

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