Does Your Company Need a Crisis Communications Plan?

In Business on July 25, 2011 at 10:06 am

By  Gillian Williams McClean

Regardless of the industry you’re in or how many years you’ve been in it, the answer is…YES!
Even if you are your company’s full staff complement, when (not if) a crisis comes along having a communications plan will pay off. You’ll save time, dollars and reduce stress.

So what constitutes a crisis? There’s the obvious like an injury-producing product defect, a fire or flood. It could also be a work stoppage or the spread of damaging misinformation.  It’s any situation that adversely affects your business. Despite the sense of panic that the mere mention of “crisis” instils, your best response is to keep a level head, keep matters in perspective and most of all have a practiced plan.
As the company leader, a plan will enable you to display genuine concern not panic, to exhibit control amidst chaos and to hasten the company’s journey back to normal… and in some instances even elevate its status. Remember the Tylenol tampering crisis? Here, a deadly and disastrous situation, well managed, ultimately improved the product’s market position.
A solid crisis communications plan has three essential components that can be adapted depending on your company size, resources and overall susceptibility to risky situations. For instance, if you’re regularly working with highly explosive or hazardous materials you’d be well advised to have a sound plan in place. This is not to say that if you’re operating a “pet rock” sitting service you shouldn’t be prepared for the worst – whatever that may be.
1. Prepare
Hypothesize and anticipate where the company may be vulnerable. Ever have a “whatever could go wrong” nightmare? As long as it doesn’t involve attacks by space aliens, contemplate and plan your response.  Now back to reality, what crises have your competitors faced? Could it happen to you? This speculative time is also an excellent opportunity to create or add to a “fix it” list.
Pre-assign primary and secondary crisis response roles to your staff and create an emergency contact list.
Select the most appropriate company spokesperson and back-up person(s). Many companies immediately choose the owner or President; however there are instances when it’s better to put the most credible source (a subject-matter expert) out front.
Create a quick response template to answer the “who, what, where, when, why, and how” questions.
Make a list of your key stakeholders starting with the internal (employees, business associates, etc.) extending to external people who may be indirectly affected.
Preselect your communication channels. Today’s first choice is often e-mail, a web site or social media. However don’t forget “old school” technology like the company voicemail that many will still turn to in a crisis. If safety is not a concern, appoint onsite staff to update people who may show up at your front door.
Put your plan on paper – electronic and hard copy in case your emergency involves a power outage or other downed networks.
Lastly PRACTICE your PLAN. Under pressure it’s easier to adapt a practiced response than to create one from scratch.

2. Respond
There are a multitude of possible crisis scenarios but all require taking steps to quickly ensure the safety of persons, property and reputation.
Mobilize your pre-assigned crisis response staff. Once any immediate danger has been removed or controlled, get your communications crisis plan rolling. Save the live play-by-play reporting while leaping burning buildings for the movies.
Communicate to your audiences, starting from the inside out. Ensure your staff and other internal stakeholders know the situation and response before you start broadcasting to the world.
Crisis communication principles say: a) Take responsibility. b) Be truthful. If you don’t know all the facts say so, but commit to uncovering and sharing them. c) Keep communication channels open.
3. Recover, Review and Refine
As the crisis subsides, use your communication channels to keep all stakeholders updated. Share lessons learned and improvements being made. Use the opportunity to build upon relationships with existing stakeholders and to gain new ones.
Remember “This, too, shall pass.” and if managed and communicated correctly it could be an unparalleled opportunity to propel your business to a new level.
Gillian Williams McClean is a senior communications strategist with more than 20 years experience. To reach her – gmjcreative@bell.net


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