Keep Calm and Establish Crisis Communication Plans

Posted on Friday, April 12, 2019

Your business is up and running now, bigger and more stable. But are you ready to face moments of crisis?

One of the first steps to preparedness for any emergency is putting in place a crisis communication plan, which is an invaluable part of emergency preparedness and response which can save lives as much as it can save a company's name and reputation.

An effective crisis communication plan identifies key considerations – starting from the representative speaker, down to the intended audience, content and delivery channels of the communication. When under stress and other constraints, a company can rely on such a template to appear in control, informed and calm in the media and to other stakeholders.

Take-Aways to Remember

The way you handle a crisis is more likely to shut down your business than the crisis itself.

What kinds of crises are likely to threaten your business and its reputation? Identify the five most plausible scenarios.

What Constitutes a Crisis?

In the context of your business, anything with the power to damage your operations or reputation can be considered a crisis. One example is an incident involving injuries or deaths in the workplace – a concern which can permanently affect your reputation or put you out of business entirely.

Illustrating how an error in communication could go horribly wrong, think back to the mine explosion in West Virginia several years ago. Thirteen miners were trapped underground for two days. Initial worldwide media reports said 12 miners survived, when in fact only one of them had been found alive.

Frequency

No matter how avoidable most accidents can be, injuries and deaths in workplaces happen inevitably, particularly in certain industries. One study on crisis preparedness done by Penn Schoen Berland, for instance, revealed 66 percent of surveyed companies have experienced a crisis. Those in the manufacturing and technology-based industries reported the most number of incidents.

Threats to a company's reputation may also extend to cyberspace, wherein issues range from inadvertent disclosures of privileged information to malicious security breaches. While incidents such as these may not be as grave as workplace deaths, equally effective and organized internal and external communications are just as important.

A Checklist

1. Who should be the face of the company in moments of crisis? Assign someone who can represent the company regardless of the crisis or issue at hand. Make sure he or she is prepared and well-rehearsed through the help of media training experts or colleagues.

2. What kinds of crises are likely to threaten your business and its reputation? Identify the five most plausible scenarios.

3. What kind of message do you need to convey? Draft at least two key messages for each of the five crises you have identified. Consider what information is necessary, keeping in mind... the message should be clearly understood regardless of the media channel you will use.

4. Who do you need to connect with during a crisis? Identify and take note of people you need to contact for help, either with the content or the handling and delivery of your message. They may come from within your company or consulting firms specializing in crisis management. Key people include:

Marketing/Public Relations professional
Safety/security expert
Regulatory agencies
Legal counsel
Insurance agents
Accountant
Internet service provider
Relevant media
Local police department

5. Who is your target audience? Depending on the nature of your top five crisis scenarios, you may classify them as internal and external contacts. Employees and their families, stakeholders, clients and vendors fall under the internal category, while the general public, media outlets, regulatory agencies and law enforcement are external.

6. What media channels will you use in communicating your message? You can use whatever forms of media you are comfortable with as long as you convey a clear and consistent message across all of them. The advent of high-tech and real-time social media has made external communications easier for some companies, although the study from Penn Schoen Berland shows that 54 percent of surveyed decision makers still do not prefer these modern methods. If you are not confident about handling the actual media distribution yourself, you may hire a PR expert or other equally qualified agencies which use one or more channels:

E-mail
Telephone
Your business' voicemail message
Local media -- print, radio, television, online
Website
Text messaging
Social media channels; these can be used as monitoring tools as well as venues where you can interact freely and instantly with your audience

7. Practice, then practice some more. With your top five scenarios, potential messages for each, identified contacts and preferred media channels, you are now equipped to rehearse your crisis communication plans.

After the Crisis Has Passed

How effective are your communication plans? The only time you can find out for sure is after the crisis has passed. Take time in assessing what happened, and turn them into an opportunity to improve your future strategies.

1. Take note of business and safety practices which may be changed or improved in order to avoid repeating the crisis – and implement the changes as soon as possible.

2. Evaluate the message you conveyed and its effectiveness in responding to the crisis.

3. Continue keeping an ear out for discussions regarding your company and its reputation on social media, forums and other online venues.

4. Capitalize on the experience you gained; transform the crisis into a "lesson learned" that can be used in strengthening the business moving forward.

5. Keep in touch with contacts that proved to be most useful.

Insurance

The way you handle a crisis is more likely to shut down your business than the crisis itself – and having a solid communication plan is just as good as purchasing insurance for your reputation. Many businesses have proven these points over the years, and it's clear, companies with effective plans generally recover much faster than those without.

Consider planning ahead of any possible crisis as a wise business investment – and see it pay multiple dividends when the time comes.

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Disclaimer: The information contained in Dulin, Ward & DeWald’s blog is provided for general educational purposes only and should not be construed as financial or legal advice on any subject matter. Before taking any action based on this information, we strongly encourage you to consult competent legal, accounting or other professional advice about your specific situation. Questions on blog posts may be submitted to your DWD representative.

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