The success of any business rests firmly on its reputation. But, all that work building your reputation can be destroyed by one poorly handled crisis. A crisis is any situation that threatens the integrity or reputation of your company, usually brought on by negative media attention. These situations can be any kind of legal dispute, theft, accident, disaster, fight or shooting, that could be attributed to your company. If handled correctly the damage to the company’s reputation can be minimized.
A. Before the Crisis Occurs
You should take certain steps even before a crisis occurs to maximize your preparedness and ability to react quickly when a crisis hits.
1. Identify a Crisis Communication Team
Identify the team responsible for action in a crisis. The team should consist of key individuals, including the CEO, personnel responsible for public relations and safety, managers in key departments, and legal counsel. Make a list of the people on the team, their responsibilities, and their home and cell phone numbers. The team’s job is to create a plan of action and select a spokesperson.
2. Designate a Spokesperson
Designate one person as the primary spokesperson, and one back-up, to represent the company, make official statements and answer media questions throughout the crisis. The spokesperson needs to be skilled in handling media, comfortable in front of a camera, and in a position of authority to establish credibility and project confidence. Instruct employees that media inquiries should be directed to the spokesperson. Train the spokesperson in media relations.
3. Establish Notification Systems and Media Policies
Establish notification systems that will allow you to rapidly reach your stakeholders using multiple modalities. Use technology and social media to your advantage. Select a place to be used as a media center, a distance away from the offices of the Crisis Communications Team. Determine a location for interviews and press briefings with a generic backdrop and no distractions.
4. Prepared Statements
Prepare a holding statement in advance that can be used to make an initial general response to the media when knowledge about the crisis first becomes known by the public or reporters. (See sample below)
5. Collateral Materials
Prepare informational brochures or fact sheets about the company in advance to give to reporters or others seeking background information about the company.
B. When a Crisis Hits
Once the pre-crisis steps are implemented, you will be ready to react quickly when a crisis hits.
1. Determine the message
One of the first responsibilities of the Crisis Communication Team is to determine the appropriate message to address the crisis. It is crucial in a crisis to tell it all, tell it fast and tell the truth. If you do not communicate immediately, you lose your greatest opportunity to control events. The first and foremost goal is protecting the integrity and reputation of the Company. Never try to lie, deny or hide your involvement. If you ignore the problem it will only get worse.
2. Communicate the message
Your first news release should include at a minimum the who, what, when and where of the situation. Do not speculate. Do show concern for the public and for your employees. With holding statements available as a starting point, the Crisis Communications Team must continue developing the crisis-specific messages required for any given situation. Keep it simple. Have no more than three main messages that go to all stakeholders and, as necessary, some audience-specific messages for individual groups of stakeholders. Coordinate messages with public officials on the scene. Post your official statement directly to your blog, Facebook, and Twitter sites or provide links to the information. Restrict all interviews to the primary spokesperson, back-up spokesperson, or your technical expert. At the onset of the crisis, the spokesperson should spend time with advisors rehearsing prepared statements and answers to possible “tough” questions that reporters may ask. Controlling the interview process is key to managing the crisis. Do not talk off the record.
3. Monitoring and Follow Up
Monitor what is being said about you on social media and traditional media, by your employees, customers, and other stakeholders, so you know what issues to address and so you can correct errors in media coverage. Establish a log to record all telephone calls from the media or other parties inquiring about the crisis, so you do not overlook a required callback.
Do not be unprepared or underprepared for a crisis. Although you would like to believe it cannot happen to you, and hopefully it will not, it can. If it does, you will suffer far more damage than the disaster itself would cause, risking your company’s well-built reputation by your failure to have a fully developed crisis communications plan in place.
Sample Holding Statement:
[Organization name] confirms that it has received a report of [nature of event]. According to the information received at this time, the [event] occurred at [time and location]. Reports indicate that [any confirmed information on the event] and that [any initial measures] measures are being taken to protect [the public, responders, products, trade, or specify as appropriate]. The [specify plan as appropriate] emergency plan has now been activated [and we have activated our public information center]. [Organization name] is coordinating its activities with responders now at the scene and other involved agencies [specify as appropriate]. We will be providing further information as soon as it becomes available. [Provide details on timing of any updates or briefings]. The next [briefing/update] will take place at [location and/or time].
By: Jennifer S. Walther, Esq.
1509 North Prospect Avenue • Milwaukee, WI 53202 • (414) 224-0600 • firstname.lastname@example.org