‘If you fail to plan you’re planning to fail’ and in the case of crisis management, organisations ignore this cliché at their peril.
Even strong businesses become vulnerable when on the receiving end of bad PR, especially in a world where stinging criticism on social media travels at the speed of light.
So what insurance has your business taken out against a potentially fatal dose of poor public opinion?
Most businesses would say they’re doing everything in their power to avoid a crisis, but let’s assume for a second that the worst has just happened.
If at this point you’re not prepared then one thing’s for certain – you’re about to fall further and land harder than you ever thought possible.
If you are not ready with the right message, your stakeholders will become confused and angry, the business will be perceived as inept and even negligent, and the length of time needed to resolve the issue will be extended.
Your profit and reputation may never recover.
It’s not just the private sector that’s vulnerable to a crisis – the closure of charity Kids Company in 2015 sent shockwaves through the not-for-profit world. All charities felt they were ‘tarred with the same brush’ and with 160,000 charities in the UK alone that’s a big brush and a lot of tar.
Don’t underestimate the power of public opinion to affect your bottom line. If you are serious about being prepared for a crisis then put some time, effort and budget into it.
Consider the basics.
First of all, anticipate what the crisis could be. Get your team together to brainstorm and you’ll soon realise that some situations are already preventable. This enables you to prepare your responses when you’re not under the pressure of the actual crisis. In some cases, like job losses or relocation, you are actually creating the ‘crisis’, so there is no excuse not to have all bases covered.
The next consideration is to decide who’s going to deliver the message.
All organisations should ensure that only authorized people speak for it. Spokespeople should be trained and able to deliver messages across the many channels. We’ve all cringed when the wrong person delivers the wrong message on TV and radio, and we also know that social media is happy to shoot the messenger.
The right person is needed for all forms of communications, internal and external. This includes on camera, at a public meeting, and at employee meetings. You really don’t want to be making these decisions when the brown stuff is already all over the fan.
Today, we reach stakeholders using multiple channels, including phone, email, text, video, instant messenger and social media. Don’t fall into the trap of setting up these accounts on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook after the crisis breaks because your audience won’t be there. It is absolutely essential – pre-crisis – to establish systems and processes that will allow you to get the self-preservation message out there as soon as possible.
Intelligence gathering is another 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, left unchecked, could turn into a crisis.
Likewise, monitoring feedback from all stakeholders during a crisis situation allows you to accurately adapt your strategy and tactics. Google Alerts and tracking apps like Hootsuite are free and effective ways to gauge opinion.
While full message development must await the outbreak of an actual crisis, ‘holding’ statements can be developed in advance to be used during a wide variety of scenarios where the organization feels it’s vulnerable.
Once a crisis hits and the holding statements are out, because you are prepared there will be time to assess the situation.
Assessing the crisis situation is the first step you can’t take in advance.
However, preparation means the team already knows what type of information its stakeholders are looking for. Keep it simple. Have no more than three main messages that go to all stakeholders and some audience-specific messages for individual groups.
Finally there should be a wash up meeting to analyse what went right and what went wrong. A structured in-house brain storming session is just the job here.
When an organization looks at the cost of preparing a crisis communication plan, either in-house or by bringing in an outside professional, it is tempting to conclude that ‘it couldn’t happen to us’. For this reason around 95 per cent of organizations still remain either completely unprepared or significantly under-prepared for how to communicate during a crisis.
Be part of the significant minority, who when considering the cost of doing something also consider the cost of not doing it.