Even if you’ve never faced a crisis in your business, chances are you may sometime. So start preparing – or reviewing your preparations – now. Whether the crisis is generated by rumor or fact, how well you handle a crisis situation determines how well your business will survive the incident and how speedily it will recover its credibility and rate of growth. There may not be any positive aspects to a crisis, but you can diminish its negative effects by acting quickly and intelligently. Here’s how:
Before The Crisis Hits: Prepare!
- Anticipate “worst case scenarios” and consider how you would respond to them. You may even want to prepare answers to potential questions.
- Designate an employee “crisis management team.” Assign each team member specific duties to carry out in the event of a crisis. Include such responsibilities as:
- Alert all employees
- Gather information from the necessary authorities
- Brief the media and conduct interviews
- Respond to inquiries from customers and the general public
- Provide administrative support
- Monitor media coverage
- Develop a list of names and phone numbers of the public information officers at the local hospital, poison control center, police and fire departments, and the Environmental Protection Agency. Get to know them – you may need to rely on these people for information at a critical time.
- Determine what legal counsel you would use if needed.
- Have handy the home phone numbers of your employees so that they can be called in to carry out your crisis response plan.
- Keep your crisis responsibilities, strategies, statements, contact lists and these instructions in an easily accessible place. Make sure each member of the crisis team has a copy. Review and update it every six months.
- Make employees aware of your business crisis plans and their potential role in the response effort.
- Practice your response plan with the crisis team so that everyone is aware and prepared.
- Stay on good terms with the local press. Establish yourself as the local “expert” that the media can call on for background information. The ties you forge now will enhance your credibility later.
- Take the time to also develop a good rapport with your community. Your networking will pay off in the aftermath of a crisis.
When A Crisis Hits
The basic strategy for dealing with a crisis is to get out all the facts, as quickly and accurately as you can. Important steps:
- Notify the crisis team and set up a crisis response area in which to work. Assign responsibilities.
- Designate a media spokesperson – preferably the CEO or top on-site management. That person will speak for the company. All media requests should be referred to that one spokesperson. Employees speaking out of turn can create confusion and panic.
- Gather as much background and general information on the incident as possible. Begin preparing media statements.
- Prioritize your “audiences”: employees, customers, the media, the general public, local authorities and outside agencies as necessary.
- Determine the messages and mechanisms for disseminating information. Establish phone hotlines and media briefings to respond in a timely manner.
- If necessary, consult legal counsel to ensure the information disseminated does not adversely affect possible future litigation.
- Maintain ongoing logs of all inquiries and new information. Keep crisis team members up to date. Brief special audiences – local officials, the press, key customers – at regular intervals.
- Keep written or recorded records of all statements made.
- Regularly monitor and evaluate all media coverage to ensure that accurate information is being conveyed. Put to rest any rumors as soon as they arise.
- Be a good news source – this is key to controlling and containing the situation.
- If the crisis involves injuries or fatalities, do your best to reach the victims’ families before the media. If any family members arrive on-site, try to keep them separate from the news media. The families will be calmer, and the media’s story less sensational.
After The Storm Passes
It may not seem like it when you are in the middle of one, but crises do pass. When a situation starts to wind down, begin a process of self-evaluation.
- Determine what actions could have been taken ahead of time to lessen the impact of the present crisis.
- Examine media accounts of the crisis and determine if your point of view got proper airing.
- Gather a list of all the journalists who were in contact with you during the crisis, and stay in touch with them. If any new (especially positive) developments occur, let them know.
- Keep the lines of communication with your employees and customers open. Ask for their insights on how the crisis was handled, and how it affected (if at all) their perception of your business.
- Take what you’ve learned and revise your crisis plans accordingly. You’ll be even better prepared next time – but hopefully, there won’t be a next time.