Crisis Communications: How to Prepare Before a Crisis Occurs
Do you have a well thought out and written plan in place if a catastrophe or crisis that impact you or your organization occurs in the next ten seconds? Chances are you don’t. Congratulations if you do.
Let’s be honest; dealing with a major crisis is not something we care to think about. As I write this article, a number of high profile celebrities including actors, executives, athletes and political figures are making the news over sexual harassment allegations. Almost all of these alleged infractions occurred years earlier. Did any plan for the day their stories would hit the news? My guess is they didn’t but wish they had.
Crisis Preparedness versus Crisis Response
Think about it. Lifeguards at your local swimming pool or beach aren’t hired to sound an alarm if swimmers find themselves in trouble. Their job is to immediately respond and implement the hundreds or thousands of hours of training they’ve received to safety retrieve and if necessary, give basic to immediate medical attention to prevent further injury or death.
The same is true for law enforcement officers. Hopefully their expertise with a weapon is never needed. If so, we hope their training was thorough enough that their judgment, timing, and proficiency can save a life or limit the damage.
Taking the time to think through and prepare for potential crisis’ many times can save heartache, revenue and lives. Below are a few issues to consider when designing a crisis communication plan.
Consider the possibilities of a crisis
If your product or service caused the death of one or a thousand people, do you know what your first action would be? What if the owner, large shareholder, senior manager or employee was accused of a serious crime and arrested last evening? What if the departing employee you hosted a farewell reception for last Friday filed a news worthy lawsuit against your company the following Monday?
For starters, think through some of the most common possibilities. It’s impossible to anticipate every possible crisis, but preparing for a few will help, even when facing the unexpected.
Designate a team to handle crisis communications
Unless you are a larger company with full-time public relations or media relation’s team or spokesperson, I suggest you retain an outside agency with an expertise in crisis communications. Make your attorney or legal counsel aware of this decision or better yet, make them part of the process when designing your plans. Chances are good any crisis you encounter may involve a legal action.
Establishing guidelines for steps one, two, three….
What person is notified of the crisis first? How will your designated team communicate and by what methods? How will your company handle press inquires or what happens when news trucks pull up to your front curb and begin broadcasting? Will safety of your company’s personnel or assets be an issue? How will you communicate information to employees and customers?
There are many things to consider. Not only should these guidelines be well conceived, they must be written and made available to key stakeholders.
Having what are known as “holding statements” is a smart idea too. “Our company has been made aware of xxxx situation. We are gathering details and will comment soon.” Or, “Our thoughts and prayers are with the injured and we appreciate the emergency personnel who responded so quickly.”
Make sure your primary spokesperson has adequate training
No one within the organization who is not authorized to speak on behalf of the company should communicate with the media under any circumstances. In many cases, that includes the owner or CEO. The individual in charge of the crisis team should be the one to designate who speaks and when.
When a crisis occurs, information – whether correct or incorrect – often moves at the speed of light. Many times critical communication mistakes are made early in the process and can make the situation worse. Not responding is usually the worse tactic. Responding too quickly before key information is gathered is a mistake too.
Your designated spokesperson should be comfortable communicating with the press and be accustomed to speaking in public. During a crisis, conversations with the press and press conferences in particular can turn hostile. The manner in which your designated spokesperson handles themselves in vitally important and there is no substitute for training and experience.
How and who will monitor the situation?
When news of a crisis hits, information is being dispersed from many directions. In today’s social media environment not only will news spread quickly, so can comments from private citizens. One of your first actions should be setting up Google Alert for your organization and key employees. It’s free and easy to set up. Other options are paid monitoring services that not only monitor news reports, but provide reports as well.
My hope is you or your organization never faces a true crisis. Having been through them, it’s no fun. If you are faced with a crisis, implementing the steps above should lessen the impact to your organization and those involved.
Give us a call and we’ll be happy to help you start the process.
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