Crisis Preparation: A checklist of advance planning steps

How can an organization prepare in advance for a crisis?

In all of life we know that advance preparation makes reality far easier. No one would ever contemplate singing the National Anthem in front of thousands without practicing it. Over and over. And getting coaching.

Crisis survival and your business or organization’s future depend upon your work in advance of a disaster.

Our steps for crisis preparation.

  1. Audit for most probable crisis situations and vulnerabilities: from accidental business interruptions to product recalls to tragedy or HR issues in the workplace.
  2. Create a crisis communications plan: Make certain that your plan takes into consideration and lays out strategies and tactics covering the following critical items.
    1. Who will manage the crisis?
    2. How will the team respond?
    3. What will they communicate?
    4. When will they communicate it?
    5. Why will they communicate?
    6. Who will be the communicator?
    7. When will subject matter experts be used?
    8. When will outside auditors be used?
  3. Draft basic responses (and keep on the ‘shelf’) for each of the crisis situations. In every business or industry there are some highly likely situations. Make sure your plan considers and contemplates responses to those most common.
    1. Daycare example: Staff member abusing a child
    2. Restaurant: Food poisoning
    3. Data breach
  4. Establish a crisis communications team. There is no time in a crisis to figure out who is part of the team. Choose your team and make sure everyone is up to date with contact information for each member. Clarify where you’ll meet: online, in-person, at an ops center.
    1. Identify members and make sure they are aware they are part of the team
    2. Compile team contact information and make certain that all team members have this on hand and readily available
      1. Keep this updated (at least every 3 months)
    3. Establish a manner of communication; in person / face to face or remote (conference call and shared online document creation)
    4. Establish a location of gathering and ensuring all communications tools are present (from wifi to laptops, tablets, or if remote team members, creating permission based network accessible documents, ensuring conference calling / networking capacities are up to date and available)
    5. Outline roles for each member
    6. Make sure crisis communications team has bios/backgrounders on all company leaders and specifics
  5. Identify Subject Matter Experts who will assist the crisis communications team
  6. Drill. Firemen, police and EMTs drill. So should your firm. If you don’t practice, how will you know if your team is ready to manage a situation? How will you know if your carefully planned procedures will work? Don’t take this part for granted. Test it with a drill.
  7. Proactively provide information via the firm’s website about issues likely to be of concern in a crisis. Evidence makes the difference in the courtroom and in the courtroom of public opinion. If you have compliance requirements, demonstrate before a crisis situation that your firm had done all in it’s power to be in compliance and remain there. Having this information publically visible on your website helps develop trust and transparency. As examples:
    1. Daycare: Publish credentials and compliance information
    2. Restaurant: Publish inspection reports and staff who have completed Servsafe courses for example.
  8. Establish social media accounts on appropriate social media channels and monitor across all social media for firm, CEOs, and brand mentions
    1. Create Twitter / media lists and follow local / beat media likely to report on your industry
  9. Get to know (in person if appropriate) media most likely to report on a crisis in your industry. The media are doing their jobs. Not trying to trap you. If they know you and your firm in advance, they will not be strangers to you. Though don’t confuse getting to know them with trying to sway them. There is a huge difference. Understand that they have readers and viewers who want facts. And if they can’t get the facts, they will publish what people are talking about. And we all know that when people don’t have information they talk trash. Don’t let the media publish rumors and trash. Get them the facts when they ask.
  10. Have Google Alerts (real time) for your brand/leaders. Don’t let a crisis sneak up on you. Believe me, the media are monitoring media for stories and grumbles. If they are listening, you better be.

Does this feel like too much to do in advance of a crisis? If it does, call us. 843.628.6434. We can guide you through every step and allow you to sleep better knowing you’ve done your due diligence to prepare for a crisis situation.


Marketing and Public Relations Recommendations for Every Business

Business owners frequently ask what we recommend that they do to market and promote their business. While we cannot suggest strategy for your business without consultation, we can recommend the six tactics we outline here as critical to developing a strong presence and attracting new business.

Recommended Public Relations and Marketing Activities

Marketing and Public Relations Recommendations

  1. Add social media advertising to your plan—Whether you use Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter or LinkedIn, you must begin to allocate advertising dollars to promoting posts and your firm. Many people were lured into thinking that social media were free to use to promote their businesses. We have all discovered that free is not free. It takes time and energy. Changes to all social media channels have caused it to be increasingly difficult to stand out and connect. Now every platform allows you to use ad dollars to reach target customers. Don’t fight this. Just do it.
  2. Create a content marketing plan—If you are using your owned media channels to distribute content, you must have a coherent content marketing plan. Without a plan, you will drift into poor habits and unfocused posting and sharing. Focus on your core business and anchor customers.
  3. Create a content driven website that gets updated on a regular basis—If you have been too focused on your business this last year perhaps you missed the news that Google has drastically changed their algorithms in the last 18 months. Firms who need to be found are beating you in search results pages because they are using their website to author new, consumer / customer focused information which supports marketing and SEO goals. A content managed website allows you to easily add content to your website.
  4. Use email marketing to keep in contact with your customers—You can say thank you, share news about customers, congratulate them and at the same time, remind them of the solutions offered by your products. If you are smart, #2 and #3 above will be designed to work hand in glove with this initiative. E-mail marketing to current and past customers is a must-do. Not a want-to-do.
  5. Create a crisis communications response plan—Neglect this recommendation at your peril. Every business will face a crisis and you have no way of knowing when. Whether a disgruntled customer who takes to Twitter to vent or an employee who commits fraud or embezzles from your business. You are vulnerable. A crisis communication plan allows you to prepare in advance by understanding and evaluating the risks and threats. And it allows you to have first line responses composed and a plan of action. Don’t wake up one morning to find that you are being skewered in social media and you have no way of knowing in which direction to turn.
  6. Think and act like your customers—Of all the recommendations I have to make, this one is essential to your continued success and the success of all my other recommendations. If you get out of the self-promotional mindset, you will discover new perspectives. These new perspectives will help you do better work, offer better, more customer-centric products.

It is up to you to make sure your marketing fits your customer and supports your business goals. Don’t neglect doing something now that will win you new business in the future.

Can Your Business Weather A Crisis?

Prepare for a crisis before it happens

A crisis is not always a scandal

Not every crisis involves a scandal. A crisis can be any interruption of business. Fire. Flood. Storm. Pandemic such as COVID-19. Internet outage. Is your business ready to weather the storm? What does it take to be prepared?

Every summer in Charleston our thoughts turn to the possibility of hurricanes. They are our summertime menace—one somewhat more predictable than the tornadoes suffered by the mid-west. However, they aren’t the only intermittent crisis which could befall any business in Charleston.

A crisis hits home

One hot summer day, Comcast subscribers the entire Charleston area were without Internet and cable television access due to the cutting of a trunk line. Many businesses learned exactly how vulnerable they are to an unpredicted, unexpected act that interrupts their regular operations. There were complaints that POS systems wouldn’t work, that credit cards could not be processed or faxes received.

During our period of lack of Internet, we were able to carry on serving a client in the middle of their crisis which included the creation of a press release and its distribution to area journalists and media. That we were able to continue operations in the midst of our own crisis was not an accident.

Crisis audits prevent most surprises

We were fortunate in that a few years ago we analyzed our business interruption vulnerabilities and put in place systems that would support our business transactions even if we lost our offices, computers, or premises. We conducted our own crisis audit.

In our audit we identified systems and procedures critical to our business and set up redundancy to support us if we had a hurricane and had to “bug out” and work from another geographic location. In our case, this meant setting up file back-up systems for remote location back-ups and local “bug-out drives” which we can grab and go in the event of relocation. We also began using a project management system to allow us to have access to our project files and notes from anywhere with Internet connectivity. We also upgraded our portable computing capabilities by making sure our critical software was installed on a laptop computer which could be taken with us. And we made sure we all have data-enabled smartphones which can serve as wifi hotspots. Our smartphones can also serve as devices which connect us to our backed up files. Additionally they allow us to compose documents of all types. We even set up credit card processing through our smartphones just in case someone might wish to pay us. And finally, our IP office phones all roll (when not answered) directly to our personal cell phones. Even our billing system is off site so all records are not in danger.

When we conducted our audit and began putting in place our back-up systems, we were focused on major disasters like hurricanes or fires or floods. But the plans and systems we use serve just as well in the face of  the Internet’s being down.

How vulnerable are you? Do you have multiple file backups? Do you have a phone system that is not dependent on physical location?

Conduct your own crisis audit and determine what you need as far as systems and supplies or software and hardware to continue business in case of any type of interruption. In the case of a restaurant I worked with many years ago, it meant keeping disposable flatware, plates and cups as well as candles and large five gallon jugs of water so they could serve if their water or electricity went out, or their dish machine quit working.

Do the work now to be sure you won’t lose all profitability or ability to meet your customers’ needs in a crisis.

Crisis prevention resources we use and recommend

  1. CrashPlan Pro off site cloud backups: We have all our files backed up all the time. And they are accessible from any location. Learn more.
  2. Google Drive: Connected with GSuite, this file creation and sharing service from Google allows you to create documents, spreadsheets, and presentations as well as store, send, share and edit. Learn more.
  3. Portable aka Bug out hard drive: A multi-terabyte drive allows us to also store files locally and to quickly grab and go if we need to evacuate for a storm. Research them.
  4. Skype provisioned office numbers: Skype makes it very easy to provision local phone numbers which you can set to forward to any phone. When we are in the office our service serves calls over the Internet to our desktop phones. When we are away or don’t answer the office number, we have it set to forward to our cell phones. Google Voice also has similar capabilities. Learn more.
  5. Paypal Here: Allows us to accept credit card payments in person which are processed to our payment gateway. You can also use Square Payments. Learn more.
  6. Project Management: We use QDPM project management and like it. There are many types of project management systems from Slack, Facebook’s Workplace, BaseCamp to ZoHo. All provide ways to store files, and collaborate with your team, whether you are in the same office or widely distributed geographically.
  7. Accounting and Billing systems: We use one that is connected with our hosting services, so it’s not going to be useful for most people, but there are cloud based systems from FreshBooks to QuickBooks and probably many more.

If your business or firm is facing a crisis, contact us at 843-628-6434 for consultation and assistance. If you would like to have us perform a crisis audit for your firm so you are prepared in advance, we welcome your call.