Don’t play chicken with your business’s future
Crisis situations happen everyday in all types of businesses. From food manufacturers having to recall mislabeled products, to faulty products causing death and injury, to embezzlement, to billing fraud, your business has many threats lurking in wait.
There is a lot of advice directed to business owners about what to do if you have a cataclysmic event or crisis at your business.
The time for crisis planning is not during a crisis
If you wait until you’re in the midst of a crisis to plan a response, it will be too late. The time for crisis preparation is before you experience a crisis. Advance planning is essential to making sure your business not only makes it through the crisis, but is able to carry on in the future.
Planning can help prevent chaos in social media as the story rages and company execs are wring their hands.
Esteemed crisis communications consultant and author Jonathan Bernstein observes,
Responding to a crisis without a plan in place can be like trying to buckle your seatbelt after you see a semi cross the center divider and head straight at you.
What usually results is a lot of chickens perambulating rapidly without their heads, until one who retained his/her head can manage to calm and organize them.
What also results, invariably, is the organization incurring more damage that it would have if a plan had been in place and executed.
So, how do you plan in advance to respond to a crisis?
To prevent becoming a headless chicken, start by conducting a crisis audit for your firm and then creating a crisis management plan.
According to Bernstein, a crisis prevention audit identifies threats, analyzes public perception of your business, and analyzes your internal staff’s perceptions.
“Bernstein gives these examples of issues that have been detected as a result of recent vulnerability audits and/or have been the cause of avoidable crises:
- perceptions of racial and sexual harassment and discrimination
- employees accused of wrongdoing (sometimes accurately, sometimes not) on and off the job
- union actions and/or hostile attempts to unionize
- blatant violations of customer confidentiality around the workplace and in public areas
- damaging rumors — online and off-line”
By identifying threats, you can remediate the cause, thus preventing the probable crisis and build responses to threats before they occur.
Create your crisis communication plan
To create your plan, designate one staff member to lead the audit and prepare a crisis response plan.
Your crisis plan should:
- List members of the crisis communications / management team and their contact information (including personal cell numbers and vacation home numbers.)
- Identify where you’ll meet. Whether a board room, or external site such as your public relations agency’s office.
- List the technology and information you will need to communicate with the media. Be sure the appropriate people and or your communications firm have updated media contact lists and permissions for all social media channels, as well as access to your corporate social media account management dashboards like HootSuite. Create and set aside unpublished pages on your website where the designated team member will post crisis communications and responses.
- Specify the location of and access to or permissions required for critical files needed to compose your responses, such as accident reports, HR files, safety audits, annual reports, financial audits, etc. If you cannot back up these critical files to a “crisis response” network accessible file or drive, have the subject matter experts for each threat area make sure to have ready access to any and all files.
- Identify the company spokesperson. It is imperative that the company spokesperson have completed media training before any crisis arises. It is also imperative that your communications plan clearly explain who may communicate with the media (online, offline, print, and broadcast), when, where and how. One of the worst things which could happen is having an unauthorized person communicate with the media.
- Delineate all communications policies which must be included in staff and employee training. For example, if you have multiple outlets, or a single outlet, every employee must know what to do and whom to refer a member of the media to should media contact them. If you don’t have a communications policy in place, have your public relations team or consultant author one for you to implement.
Compose your initial crisis responses
Once you have delineated these elements, you can now compose initial responses to be used in each of the broad categories of vulnerability. These need not be elaborate statements, just an initial response which provides you immediate ability to respond to the crisis.
With advance crisis planning, you will have a ready team with access to all the necessary information, a prepared spokesperson, and messages.
Now, you must drill. Without drills, you will not know if all your planning will work. Every year in the summer, Charleston County and surrounding counties conduct an emergency drill. They refine their plan and keep all elements up-to-date.
Keep your plan updated
Your crisis audit and resulting communications plan will take a month or two to complete and test. From this point forward, you should revise it every quarter, adding and deleting staff who have left, or new information.