It is a common misconception that crisis preparation is only for big companies with their corporate infrastructure and depth of resource; both in respect of time and financial commitment.
Arguably, some larger organisations are better placed to deal with the unexpected than their smaller counterparts because they are well used to developing and applying sophisticated policies and procedures. But that doesn’t mean smaller organisations do not need to take a few rudimentary precautions that can make all the difference when a crisis looms. These can form part of the training and development of managers, team leaders and other staff.
Assess the risk
As an exercise, consider where a crisis might originate in your organisation – and try to be objective.
Could it be a customer or sub-contractor injured on your premises and suing you? A manufacturing accident causing death or serious injury? A regulator adjudicating against you for breach of a professional code or failure to carry out a statutory duty?
Now ask yourself: how would you deal with it? Is your organisation – large or small – in danger of complacency?
A simple step is to establish a clear policy on communications that can be activated if trouble hits.
In its most basic form, a crisis communications protocol sets out who is authorised to speak on behalf of the organisation and you should ensure everyone knows who it is.
What you emphatically do not want in the teeth of a crisis is a host of people speaking off the cuff to journalists, or compounding the problem through naïve or reckless use of social media. It is wise to bear in mind that those with the best intentions can often cause the worst damage.
Know who your friends are
Keep your clients and other stakeholders fully informed with timely updates on what is happening, and the steps you are taking to deal with the situation. You will have no relish for the task, but it is crucial you break the news – that way you are on the front foot with stakeholders.
Most businesses encounter reputation threats at some time or other and you may well find you have banked a great deal of moral capital if you act promptly, responsibly and transparently.
In the raucous social media environment, having external parties prepared to speak up for you is a priceless resource. If you have good contacts in the local, trade or professional media, these can be extremely useful too, but they do need careful handling. A journalist with whom you have had constructive dealings in the past will know your back story and might readily appreciate what this crisis is likely to mean to you. For this reason, building strong links with key media contacts when things are going well, can pay dividends when they are not.
Develop your own news sense to recognise PR opportunities – a social media presence managed by people who understand them is highly effective here.
If you operate in a regulated environment, establish clear, open and non-defensive lines of communication as a priority. Information on a regulator’s procedures and projected timeline is particularly useful in circumstances where legal proceedings limit what you can say. A statement pledging full co-operation with an investigation is a good place to start.
Where resource is limited, developing a simple crisis strategy need not – and should not – be a lengthy process, but it will give you the reassurance you might one day need.
Author: Anthony Longden, Consultant, Alder Media