Do you have a Crisis Management Plan?
Every organisation is vulnerable to crises, but many businesses are exposed to the risk of a crisis every day, but don’t have any contingency plans in place should a crisis happen.
What is a crisis? It can be defined as any situation that is threatening or could threaten to harm people or property, seriously interrupt business, significantly damage reputation and/or negatively impact the bottom line. Many businesses think that having OH&S, HR, privacy and other regulatory policies and procedures is all that needs to be done, but there are so many other operational and communication issues that can have a negative impact on your business, regardless of your size. Even some of the most well known brands have suffered a crisis, for example Volkswagen, Chipotle, FIFA and Lance Armstrong.
If you don’t prepare, you will incur more damage. Much like I do when looking at the marketing programs of my clients and the integration of marketing into the overall business through a Marketing Audit, Crisis and Risk Management also require an audit, commonly known as a Crisis Management Audit.
The basic steps of effective crisis communications are not difficult, but they require advance work in order to minimise damage. So if you’re serious about crisis preparedness and response, read and implement these 10 steps of crisis communications as described by Jonathan Bernstein – Principal of Bernstien Crisis Management. The first seven can and should be undertaken before any crisis occurs.
1. Anticipate Crises
If you’re being proactive and preparing for crises, gather your Crisis Communications Team for intensive brainstorming sessions on all the potential crises that could occur at your organisation.
There are at least two immediate benefits to this exercise:
- You may realise that some of the situations are preventable by simply modifying existing methods of operation.
- You can begin to think about possible responses, about best-case/worst-case scenarios, etc. Better now than when under the pressure of an actual crisis.
In some cases, of course, you know a crisis will occur because you’re planning to create it — e.g., to lay off employees, or to make a major acquisition.
2. Identify Your Crisis Communications Team
A small team of senior executives should be identified to serve as your organisation’s Crisis Communications Team. Ideally, the organisation’s CEO will lead the team, with the firm’s top public relations executive and legal counsel as his or her chief advisers. If your in-house PR executive does not have sufficient crisis communications expertise, he or she may choose to retain an agency or independent consultant with that specialty.
Other team members are typically the heads of your major organisational divisions, as any situation that rises to the level of being a crisis will affect your entire organisation. And sometimes, the team also needs to include those with special knowledge related to the current crisis, e.g., subject-specific experts.
3. Identify and Train Spokespersons
Categorically, any organisation should ensure, via appropriate policies and training that only authorised spokespersons speak for it. This is particularly important during a crisis. Each crisis communications team should have people who have been pre-screened and trained to be the lead and/or backup spokespersons for different channels of communications. All organisational spokespersons during a crisis situation must have:
- The right skills
- The right position
- The right training
These days, spokesperson responsibilities invariably include online communication, and social media is a very easy place to make a mistake. Matching potential spokespersons’ skills with their assignments as a member of the Crisis Communications Team is critical.
Some spokespersons may naturally excel at all forms of crisis communications – traditional media, social media, B2B, internal, etc. Others may be more limited.
Not only are spokespersons needed for media communications, but for all types and forms of communications, internal and external. This includes on-camera, at a public meeting, at employee meetings, etc. You really don’t want to be making decisions about so many different types of spokespersons while “under fire.”
4. Spokesperson Training
All stakeholders, internal and external, are just as capable of misunderstanding or misinterpreting information about your organisation as the media. It’s your responsibility to minimise the chance of that happening. Spokesperson training teaches you to be prepared, to be ready to respond in a way that optimises the response of all stakeholders.
5. Establish Notification and Monitoring Systems
We need to have – immediately at hand – the means to reach our internal and external stakeholders using multiple modalities. Many of us have several phone numbers, more than one email address, and can receive SMS (text) messages or faxes. Instant Messenger programs, either public or proprietary, are also very popular for business and personal use. We can even send audio and video messages via email. And then, of course, there is social media.
This may be the best/fastest way to reach some of your stakeholders, but setting up social media accounts for this purpose and developing a number of followers/friends/contacts on the various social media platforms (e.g., Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+) is not something you can do after a crisis breaks, because nowhere does news of a crisis spread faster and more out of your control than on social media. It is absolutely essential, pre-crisis, to establish notification systems that will allow you to rapidly reach your stakeholders using multiple modalities.
Intelligence gathering is also an essential component of both crisis prevention and crisis response. Knowing what’s being said about you on social media, in traditional media, by your employees, customers, and other stakeholders often allows you to catch a negative “trend” that, if unchecked, turns into a crisis.
Likewise, monitoring feedback from all stakeholders during a crisis situation allows you to accurately adapt your strategy and tactics. Both require monitoring systems be established in advance. For traditional and social media, Google Alerts are the no-cost favorite, but there are also free social media tracking apps such as Hootsuite. There a variety of paid monitoring services that provide not only monitoring, but also the ability to report results in a number of formats. Monitoring other stakeholders means training personnel who have front-line contact with stakeholders (e.g., Customer Service) to report what they’re hearing or seeing to decision-makers on your Crisis Communications Team.
6. Identify and Know Your Stakeholders
Who are the internal and external stakeholders that matter to your organisation? Your employees are your most important audience, because every employee is a PR representative and crisis manager for your organisation whether you want them to be or not! But, ultimately, all stakeholders will be talking about you to others not on your contact list, so it’s up to you to ensure that they receive the messages you would like them to repeat elsewhere.
7. Develop Holding Statements
While full message development must await the outbreak of an actual crisis, “holding statements,” messages designed for use immediately after a crisis breaks, can be developed in advance to be used for a wide variety of scenarios to which the organisation is perceived to be vulnerable, based on the assessment you conducted in Step 1 of this process. An example of holding statements by a hotel chain with properties hit by a natural disaster, before the organisation’s headquarters has any hard factual information, might be:
“We have implemented our crisis response plan, which places the highest priority on the health and safety of our guests and staff.”
“Our thoughts are with those who were in harm’s way, and we hope that they are well.”
“We will be supplying additional information when it is available and posting it on our website.”
The organisation’s Crisis Communications Team should regularly review holding statements to determine if they require revision and/or whether statements for other scenarios should be developed.
8. Assess the Crisis Situation
Reacting without adequate information is a classic “shoot first and ask questions afterwards” situation in which you could be the primary victim. However, if you’ve done all of the above first, it’s a “simple” matter of having the Crisis Communications Team on the receiving end of information coming in from your team members, ensuring the right type of information is being provided so you can proceed with determining the appropriate response.
Assessing the crisis situation is, therefore, the first crisis communications step you can’t take in advance. If you haven’t prepared in advance, your reaction will be delayed by the time it takes your in-house staff or quickly hired consultants to run through steps 1 to 7. Furthermore, a hastily created crisis communications strategy and team are never as efficient as those planned and rehearsed in advance.
9. Finalise and Adapt Key Messages
With holding statements available as a starting point, the Crisis Communications Team must continue developing the crisis-specific messages required for any given situation. The team already knows, categorically, what type of information its stakeholders are looking for. What should those stakeholders know about this crisis?
Keep it simple. Have no more than three main messages that go to all stakeholders and, as necessary, some audience-specific messages for individual groups of stakeholders. You’ll need to adapt your messaging to different forms of media as well. For example, crisis messaging on Twitter often relies on sharing links to an outside page where a longer message is displayed, a must because of the platform’s 140-character limit.
A formal analysis of what was done right, what was done wrong, what could be done better next time and how to improve various elements of crisis preparedness is another must-do activity for any Crisis Communications Team.
If you need assistance with Crisis Management as part of your overall marketing and business strategy and communications, contact Hall of Fame Marketing Bendigo and Geelong.Back to Blog and tagged Crisis Management, Hall of Fame Marketing Bendigo