When it's a crisis

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

In an ideal world, crisis planning should be part of any business’s standard operating procedure. What constitutes a crisis may vary widely from sector to sector but every business is likely to face a major issue at one point or another.

A business may be able to survive whatever crisis it faces but dealing with communication effectively during that crisis may help to reduce both the impact on sales and provide a smoother transition out of the initial predicament.

Reams have been written about how to plan for a crisis, and crisis communications, but here is a quick guide from my own experience of some key points to consider:

  1. Who will handle communication to:

     

  • Employees
  • Customers
  • The general public
  • Shareholders
  • Official bodies, such as
    • Emergency services
    • Government
    • Government departments, such as DEFRA, DWP
    • HSE
    • Local authorities
  • The media, such as
    • Broadcast
    • Print
    • Internet
    • Social
    •  

Will it be different people for different audiences? Do they need training? Are there existing standard operating procedures? How will you ensure they all offer the correct information/message? What methods will they use?

It is tempting, especially for SMEs, to have rules such as “only the managing director can talk to the press/go on television” but that can be very counter-productive when the managing director is dealing with the actual crisis. Think who else in the organisation can be given this role. Consider as well whether you should employ a professional communicator to advise.

  1. Don’t leave communication to chance

Attention and energy will be focused on dealing with the crisis, whatever it may be. But communication is crucial and you can be sure that the message will spread, whether you want it to or not, and before you know it you’ll be trending on Twitter.

Take an early hold on communications and ensure the right message is being broadcast.

  1. Don’t even think about saying “no comment” to the media. There are three good reasons why you should make a comment:
  • If you refuse to comment, the inference is that you have something to hide
  • You can check what facts the journalist has and whether they are correct
  • You have an opportunity to state your case. You may have the best answers in the world in a week’s time but nobody will be interested then.
  1. Don’t blame others for your crisis

There are instances where a crisis is clearly none of your doing and completely out of your control, such as a natural disaster or a criminal attack. However, in most circumstances, trying to shift responsibility to someone else looks defensive and often dishonest. For example, if a contractor dies on one of your sites or a disgruntled member of staff leaks important customer details to the competition, it is better to talk about how you are investigating the cause or tackling the damage than blaming carelessness or criminality.

  1. Beware the “off the cuff” comment. Dealing with a crisis can leave you tired and drained. Remember that nothing that you say is “off the record”, even if it is at 1am. It is important to keep your guard up, without hiding behind it. Be careful of the "Columbo" question - the one that's asked just as your interviewer leaves the room.

Crisis management doesn’t prevent a crisis but it can help to speed up the recovery.