Natural disasters, bankruptcy, insider trading, bad social media reviews, product recalls and the like are certainly what comes to mind when you think of a crisis that could devastate your business. Most business owners don’t stop and ask themselves “Could this happen to me?” And even if they do, the answer is typically, “No. Surely not.” You may be correct. But what if you aren't? Are you willing to take that gamble? What if you join the 59 percent of business decision makers -- according to Burson-Marsteller -- who have already experienced a crisis with either their current or previous company?
Sometimes, there is nothing you can do to avoid a crisis. But pretending it can never happen to you can become a crisis in and of itself. Should a crisis occur, you will likely find yourself in a reactionary state of panic, which is when bad decisions are often made. Look at a crisis communication plan as you would business insurance. It’s there if you need it, but you hope you never do.
How do you begin?
• Assemble a crisis management team. This team should be made up of employees from each department. If your business is small, involve everyone. Consider enlisting the help of professional marketing and public relations professionals. They will partner with you to construct the best possible plan, offering objective third-party input.
• Put pen to paper. Develop a good old-fashioned marketing SWOT analysis, which outlines your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Simply identifying these key components may help you determine the types of crises in which your company is most susceptible.
• Build relationships with key stakeholders. Map out each key audience that could play a crucial role in your company's ability to successfully navigate a crisis. Strengthen your relationships with those audiences before you need them. In addition to your social media audience, consider influencers in key groups such the media, the legal community, and government officials.
Appoint a company spokesperson. This person should be empowered to speak with the media without being completely scripted. Once you appoint a spokesperson, enlist the services of public relations professionals for media coaching. It is a best practice to put your best face forward in times of crisis or not.
• Prepare generic statements. These are statements that can apply to the types of crises you identify in your SWOT analysis. They can be tweaked as needed but at least you have a starting point.
• Respond quickly. Make sure the spokesperson responds as expeditiously as possible. Not responding quickly leaves the public and media to draw their own conclusions. Apologize quickly and directly when it is applicable, and above all else, tell the truth.
Lori Turner-Wilson can be reached at www.redrovercompany.com.