Reaction in the face of a crisis can make or break any company’s reputation. Sadly, in the past few months, the world has witnessed several organizations fail very publicly at communicating effectively during tough situations. Unpredictable yet high profile crises—such as the disappearance of Malaysian Flight 370, The General Motors recall, and the December LAX shooting—were all horrible situations that demanded clear, focused, and transparent communications, which the organizations involved failed to provide.
A crisis can be defined differently by different companies. They tend to be either incident or issue driven. Some issues might include a product, service, financial, or human resource problem. An incident might include individual misconduct, an accident, injury, death, a protest, online campaign, natural disaster, or terrorist attack.
According to PwC’s 2013 Annual Corporate Directors Survey, an increasing number of board directors are keen to give more attention to crisis management:
While the majority of directors are comfortable with the level of board attention given to crisis management, 41% want to allocate additional time to the topic going forward, up from 37% last year. This may be because more than one quarter of directors (29%) say they do not have a sufficient understanding of their company’s communications plan in the event of a crisis.
Yet most companies wait until issues arise to update or even create a crisis management plan. According to Burson-Marsteller, only 51 percent of companies have a plan, and only one-third of those companies are “confident” that plan would be satisfactory in the event of a crisis.
From a communications perspective, plans today include much more than just holding a press conference and relaying information via talking points. A comprehensive plan should also incorporate social media, supply chain, vendors, and internal communications interaction, as well as general public information.
If your company does not yet have an integrated approach to crisis communications, now is the time to start. It is important that messages be consistent throughout the enterprise and communication channels, and forward-planning can help to ensure that does happen, no matter what the crisis.
Below are some general questions that can help get you thinking about what would be relevant in your company’s crisis plan.
1. Where is the company vulnerable?
A very broad question, where the size and industry of your specific company will determine the answer. Online and social media can be vulnerability for every company—so be sure those are on your list.|
2. Do you have a core crisis team?
At minimum this includes the CEO, VP of PR/Corporate Communications, and general counsel. If the in-house PR professional does not have experience in crisis management, then a PR consultant or agency with that expertise is likely warranted.
a. How will the team be notified of a crisis?|
b. Who will be the company spokesperson? When will the spokesperson be trained?
c. Gather the facts so that when the team is assembled you have the correct information to make wise decisions.
d. Have your general holding statements ready.
3. How are potential crisis issues elevated to management; what is the process?
4. How is the company monitoring for issues in the public domain and what is the process for escalation?
5. Who are the company’s stakeholders and key audiences?
Quick note, employees can be a company’s strongest and most effective advocates— be sure they understand the situation and know the message that the company wants to convey.
6. What are the key messages in this situation?
While key messages are consistent, we recommend that they are worded for each specific platform used. For example, a message delivered to press will probably be a bit longer than the one put out over Twitter, yet each will convey the same information or sentiment.
Remember, if handled quickly and correctly, it is possible to minimize the damage caused by a crisis and even use it as an opportunity to enhance a company’s overall reputation.
Spending the time and resources upfront is a wise investment for a company of any size.
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