It takes years to build a solid brand, and a single crisis can severely tarnished an image over night. What most organizations fail to understand is a majority of crises can be anticipated, and it’s crucial to have a well prepared crisis communication plan in place.
No matter the industry you are in a crisis can strike and your organization needs to be prepared to determine what went wrong, how you are going to communicate to your audience and the solution to prevent this from happening in the future.
A previous hospitality client hosted an event and within 48 hours more than 20 people were admitted to the hospital with some sort of food-borne illness. Following the event, the company was flooded with calls that numerous people became ill after attending their event.
The company quickly released a statement to the community addressing the event they hosted, and while at the time they did not know what happened or the cause of the food-borne illness, they alerted the Cook County Board of Health and suspended all food operations. They also made sure to give their deepest apologies to those who were affected.
Over the next several days, the company along with the Board of Health identified the cause came from a guacamole dip. The company then released a follow-up statement notifying the community that while it’s uncertain to know the exact origin of how the food became contaminated, they will be incorporating the recommend best practices into their food operations to minimize this event from ever happening again.
This client could have opted to remain silent, however they decided transparency was a better option and in doing so their customer’s confidence was restored. A guiding principle when it comes to crisis communication is how are you going to tell your audience the truth in a way they can understand what happened and what steps are being taken so it doesn’t occur again.
Most organizations can anticipate possible crises depending on their industry. There is no reason not to be prepared, because when a crisis happens you need to make important decisions fast, and if you aren’t properly prepared you may not make the best choices.
Consider your crisis communication plan as reputation insurance for your brand, leaders, employees and revenue base. There are many aspects that should be considered when developing a thoughtful communication plan including:
1. Senior Leader Involvement
Meet with senior leaders to examine crises that could potentially damage your company’s reputation.
2. Identify Most Likely Crises
With your team, discuss the most likely crises in detail and develop a massage for each. These messages should maintain your credibility and defend your brand.
3. Develop a Communication Process
Based on each potential crisis, assign responsibility and establish a chain of communication to address key audiences. Determine who you tell first and how you will accurately and quickly deliver the message. Taking it a step further, consider drafting pre-written alerts for press releases, websites and social media.
4. Create a Crisis Watch Team
Select managers to watch for possible crises – there should be one manger per department, per service area. It will be the responsibility of these managers to alert senior staff on any crises that arise. In addition, assign one person to take charge and collaborate with outside counsel such as, public relations, human resources and legal.
5. Identify Target Audience
For each possible crisis, identify who your target audience is – top management, board, employees, residents, agencies, departments or vendors. Some crises may have multiple audiences.
6. Document the Plan
Once you’ve identified your most likely crises document a plan for each – describe the crisis and proper behaviors, provide baseline messages, identify crisis management team and spokespeople, determine target audience and establish communication protocols.
7. Review your Plan
Review your plan and keep it updated on a yearly basis. To be better prepared, consider running a workshop.
The main function of a crisis communication plan is to maintain and restore confidence in your organization and brand. You want a plan that will prevent the crisis from escalating, tells the story in a manner that will minimize the negative impact on the company and behave in a way that reflects well on the company, employees and customers.
Preparing and acting upon a crisis is not an easy task and requires a specific skill set. Consider reaching out to our team of experts to learn more about crisis communication and other public relations services, visit sikich.com/advisory/marketing-pr.
By: Mack Reynolds, Partner, Public Relations