Slowly but surely, crisis communications plans are becoming more and more of a standard in leading organizations – and for good reason. According to research from BCG, companies with effective crisis readiness processes outperformed their peers by 56% over a 15-year period. The goal of effective crisis response is to minimize the impact on your key business indicators. This can only be achieved if your team is trained and prepared for crisis response. It may sound simple, but practicing how to handle a crisis is the one action that can save your company’s reputation and ensure you stay in good standing with customers, partners, shareholders, and employees.
A crisis can happen to anyone, so it is important for you to have a plan. If you have never experienced a crisis, consider yourself lucky. But don’t think that because your competitors haven’t experienced one that they won’t. You have to be humble and understand that you could be vulnerable to a crisis in the future. A crisis could happen at any moment and without warning, so knowing how to deal with one is crucial. Even the most reputable companies are susceptible and will be placed under scrutiny by the public and media because of their unforeseen occurrence. This is why it’s important for you as a leader to know how to deal with these issues before they happen.
Planning for a crisis should not be a last-minute activity. It’s an important part of business continuity and should start right now for your business. Incorporating a disaster recovery plan into your business continuity plan is like adding a second story on the top of your home. Both are important to protect you from unforeseen circumstances that can occur. That is why when building your business continuity plan you need to work on two plans in one. Here is how:
Determine your threats ahead of time.
Regardless of what industry your company is in or where it operates, you likely have risks to manage. These are not just health and safety risks, but also public relations risks, financial risks, and legal risks. You can’t eliminate all risk; it’s unreasonable to think you could. But you can summarize the top risks, then have a conversation with your team about how to mitigate their effects. Are your company’s response capabilities adequate? Will your executives rally the team together and make the bold decisions needed to see through a crisis? And, since no two situations are alike, does your company have the flexibility to apply the right response program for every situation.
Create a proactive plan.
Crisis communications can occur anytime, anywhere—and you are given limited time to act. That is why you need a plan in mind for any scenario before it has happened. It’s important to prepare messaging ahead of time and have someone in-house, or an external partner experienced with crisis communications and social media management, providing guidance at the right moment during the crisis. For example, having a media response plan will help you to know how to act when things go south, and hopefully prevent things from getting worse. This allows you to be proactive in how you respond, rather than reactive. Once that groundwork is laid, you can then respond quickly and effectively when inevitable situations arise.
Deliver your message authentically.
It’s clear that people are not expecting companies to have strong views and an authentic voice. Why? Because most don’t. Unfortunately for those companies, this means that when something is said online by a company representative (for example, the brand account on Instagram), it is seen as the company’s own words. This puts them in a tough spot when there is a scandal or something going on in which the brand needs to respond. When this happens, customers want the real story and answers — they want your real views. The lesson here is to make sure your brand, and the people who represent it publicly or online, stay honest and loyal. And remember, authenticity is key.
Always control the message.
With the rise of social media, content marketing, and smartphone cameras, people are taking an increasing amount of images and video to document incidents they see on a daily basis. This has created an ongoing communications crisis for many brands as they are faced with managing two messages; one communicated by them and another being communicated by someone else. We have all seen it happen. When a crisis hits, it is critical to be the one who controls the message. It is also important to have a plan in place for when that inevitable crisis occurs. You don’t want to be scrambling to figure out what to do.
A crisis can actually provide an opportunity to build an organization’s reputation and raise its visibility. The more you plan for a crisis and practice your efforts, the more control you will have handling the incident successfully. Crises move very quickly but practice slows it down. Crisis preparedness helps you understand the mechanics of a response, making the situation easier to resolve.
Practice makes perfect, they say, and that’s certainly true with crisis management. One of the keys to successfully managing a crisis is to have a practice plan already in place. With detailed guidelines on how to respond, to whom you should report and the expectations you should hold from everyone involved in your team, you can ensure more consistency in your approach to any crisis.