When the fire first started, it was a small incident confined to the 27th floor of the high-rise building. By the time the fire department was finished, the entire building had been damaged, and the evening news reported that the building was closed.
What would you do if this were your business? For most businesses, how a crisis is handled may very well be the key to whether the company survives. Sound scary? It does not have to be. Chances are for any business lifecycle, management will face a crisis.
Business owners are particularly vulnerable. Caught in between bringing in new business and managing the day-to-day operations, considering the development of a crisis management plan isn’t unusually a priority – until something happens.
Just as no individual expects to have an accident, company management usually does not expect to encounter an explosion, a major fire or a bomb threat.
Unfortunately, every business during its lifetime will face a crisis. It may be a crisis related to the company’s products, or a natural disaster that is a totally random act. Thus, the question becomes not if it happens, but when.
While management certainly cannot control when a crisis happens, they can indeed plan for the unplanned. Certainly, much of this should be simply part of the day-to-day operational attitude of the company. This will assist in preventing panic when something does happen.
WHAT CAN I DO NOW?
While true crisis management takes time, for those that have not had a chance to begin the process, three basic steps can at least start management thinking along the right lines.
The objective is simple. First, begin to investigate steps that might prevent any disasters. Second, establish stand-by measures that must be activated when an emergency occurs. Third, and perhaps most important, formulate a follow-up plan to reinforce the company’s excellent reputation.
Begin to investigate steps that will prevent disasters. The first step is relatively simple. Start with basic procedures, such as when was the last time a fire drill was held? Given that senior-level management may be out of the office, is there a staff person that is familiar with the facilities? Now would be an excellent opportunity for the entire staff to familiarize themselves with basic operational procedures.
Next, what are the most likely situations that the company will face? This may include fire, earthquake or tornadoes, equipment failure, product recalls, shootings, store closures or bankruptcies.
Then, establish the emergency response team, including a designated media spokesperson. Make sure the lines of responsibility are delineated and all necessary information is prepared in advance. Then, put the plan in writing.
Review and Respond
Once the preliminary preparations have been started, begin reviewing the procedures with the entire staff. Practice scenarios to determine whether the plan will work properly.
Institute the communications plans with specific target audiences in mind such as employees, clients and the public. Don’t forget equipment back-up for computers and any other equipment.
Finally, make sure someone has been assigned and is prepared to act as the liaison with the media during and after the incident. Depending on the company, there may be an on-site representative as well as a coordinating off-site corporate spokesperson.
Don’t forget to include a recovery program with a pro-active approach to employee, client and public communications. Once the cleanup plans are in place, other action items may include media relations and social media campaigns.
Naturally, a proactive approach begins with developing relationships with the police department, the fire department, and the media in advance. By establishing these relationships in advance, the excellent credibility of the company will already be in place, should a crisis occur.
WHAT ABOUT THE MEDIA?
The very nature of a crisis makes dealing with the media difficult. The crisis itself may still be underway while the interviews are in progress. What should be said? Who should be the spokesperson? Should a press conference be called?
Much of the basic information for the company can be prepared in advance. These may include fact sheets, descriptions, photos, product information and facility information. Local contact sheets, which should contain home and emergency contacts for everyone on staff, should be updated and handy.
When in doubt, remember the following:
- Tell the truth. Don’t speculate or pretend that nothing happened, when in fact something did.
- Remember, this too shall pass. Hopefully, if the crisis is handled correctly, it won’t be long before this particular disaster will be nothing more than yesterday’s news.
- Get it over with. Gather the facts, determine what must be said, and say it. If there are delays, determine when the information will be available and let the press know. Then, make sure the deadline is met.
At THO, we understand that your company’s reputation is the single most important ingredient to your success. Let us be your guide during the most critical times. Give us a call to see how you can add crisis communications strategies to your toolbelt.