Every business -- from large corporations to mom-and-pops -- should prepare for a crisis. Thanks to the immediacy of digital media, a crisis can escalate within minutes. No organization is immune, but with planning, you can mitigate the impact and ...
It’s difficult to believe, considering the corporate crises we see in the news daily, but many businesses do not have a crisis communications plan.
Every business -- from large corporations to mom-and-pops -- should prepare for a crisis. Thanks to the immediacy of digital media, a crisis can escalate within minutes. No organization is immune, but with planning, you can mitigate the impact and recover quickly.
Business leaders are often discouraged from developing a plan because they think it must be a 20- to 30-page tome. In reality, an effective plan can be much shorter as long as the key players understand their roles and practice regularly.
As you’re looking ahead to 2019, now is a great time to create a crisis communications plan or update an existing plan. These strategies will help.
Build Goodwill Before The Crisis
One of the best ways to prepare is to nurture a strong brand reputation before the crisis. Remember, a brand is not a logo or identity but rather a gut feeling.
Consumers today want to do business with corporations that use their resources and influence to promote positive change. This expectation has changed everything about branding, including what’s expected before and during a crisis.
Ensure that you’re talking about your values, advocacy efforts, the causes you support and the good you accomplish in the world. Be transparent and responsive. Corporations and brands that build trust are more likely to recover from a crisis.
Create The Plan
Researching other plans is a great way to start. Many universities, government agencies and business advocacy organizations share their plans. Industry organizations and publications also offer insights specific to your business. These resources can spark ideas and help guide your efforts.
The plan should include these basics:
• Develop sample messaging to communicate your mission, values and impact. Messaging should express empathy, reaffirm a commitment to transparency and inform audiences about how they can access information as it becomes available. Communicate a clear plan for moving forward.
• Designate a spokesperson and a crisis communications team. Assign roles and responsibilities. Include contact information for all members. Determine logistics such as meeting locations and the tools you will use to communicate. Make sure everyone understands how to access these tools during a crisis.
• Prepare for both manmade and natural crises. Many businesses in the Florida Panhandle, for example, went without electricity, internet and cell service for a week or more following Hurricane Michael. Don’t forget to think about how the team would communicate if these tools were not available.
• Outline your outreach. Determine who you need to communicate with during a crisis: employees, customers/clients, shareholders, suppliers, regulatory agencies, advocacy groups, the media, etc. Include current contact information for all audiences. Outline logistics for disseminating information to each of these audiences. What channels will be used when, and how (e.g., news conferences, website, social media, email blasts, text messaging, direct mail, etc.)?
• Determine how audiences will communicate with you. How can they ask questions and what’s the process for responding? Do you need a call-in line or a designated email? If so, who will answer these inquiries? What messaging will they use?
• Designate a team to monitor what’s being said in the media and via social media. Ensure that someone is prepared to respond to questions and complaints with approved messaging in real-time. Monitoring can help you make decisions and course corrections to manage the crisis.
Share, Update, Practice
Some organizations have great plans, but they’re tucked away on a server and no one sees them until there’s a crisis. The plan should be updated and distributed at least annually. When new people join the business, the plan should be part of their onboarding.
Roleplaying is a great way to prepare. Review the plan and practice potential scenarios. Think about your operations and where things could go wrong. What information would you need to disseminate immediately? To whom? What questions would the media ask? How would you respond? How could the crisis evolve? How would your communication needs change over time?
Role-playing and media training are essential for CEOs, spokespersons and anyone else who will be in the public eye.
All businesses, regardless of size, will eventually experience some type of crisis. The best way to ensure recovery is to prepare. A plan will help you reassure audiences that you’re working to make things right and that you’re worthy of their trust.
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