2020 has awoken us all to a lot of new realities. This holds true in both life and business. As we all navigate business moving forward, we are reminded of the need for a crisis communication plan.
Being Prepared for Any Crisis
What rises to the level of crisis will vary by business. For some, like hospitals, emergency preparedness is a matter of life and death. For our discussion today, we’re talking primarily about public relations and how best to handle a crisis.
Here are two of the biggest mistakes most companies make:
- Not being prepared for a crisis
- Avoiding or outright ignoring the repercussions
Most of us don’t work in life or death services, but there are still plenty of things that can rise to the level of needing crisis management. For example:
- Accidents or natural disasters
- Someone else in your industry is attacked for poor practices and your business is now under scrutiny
- A partner or leader has a highly publicized legal violation
- A disgruntled employee takes to social media
- Or you simply fail at a task, you typically complete successfully
Any of these can lead to loss of profits, damage to your reputation, decreased employee morale and even legal and government intervention. A calculated and speedy response to any crisis is only possible through a plan.
The Key Elements of a Crisis Communication Plan
The first step is recognizing you need one. Then you can set out to construct the following elements. They can be as detailed or concise as the complexity of your business demands, but they must be in place.
1. A Detailed Plan – This is basically formalizing a document that identifies what instances require crisis communication; who is responsible for activating the plan; and who is to be alerted both internally and externally.
Your plan should also give relevant examples of how the plan may be used. For example:
- In the event of litigation, direct all inquiries to (NAME)
- In the event of a media call, direct to (NAME, BACKUP NAME)
- In the event of weather or natural disaster, you can expect (X)
2. Crisis Communication Team – Your crisis communication team should consist of someone in charge of collecting the information; someone tasked with disseminating your message; a media spokesperson; a backup spokesperson and someone to monitor ongoing impact. This could be a couple people or a few.
Backup is important here. In the event of a media call, it’s never a great look to say, “someone will get back to you.” It makes you appear unprepared or even imply guilt or negligence.
3. Key Messages
What are the key messages you wish to communicate about your business. In the event of legal liability, there may be things you can and shouldn’t say, but in general, you should consider addressing any challenge as follows. Let’s say, for example, you had an accident on your property. You should:
- Identify the cause of the accident
- Provide a short description of what happened
- Include a timetable for any policies you may change
- Verbalize compassion for any victims of the crisis
- Provide protective suggestions for your employees (i.e. Remember the front walk is icy in the mornings)
Doing these things not only position you as accountable and responsible to outsiders, they build trust and loyalty among your insiders, your team.
4. Internal Communications
Remember, addressing any crisis is not simply about addressing the media, it’s about securing the confidence of your most trusted ambassadors, your employees. For example, if a person or leader leaves your company for any reason, it’s important to alert your team.
Employees and other staff may not need to be privy to every circumstance surrounding the change, but it’s best they’re in the know. Transparency about challenges with employees not only says “you’re part of our team,” it also conveys your strength as a company and builds a sense of mission.
Another valuable part of internal communications is making a list of important contacts for all employees. This may seem like a small thing, but it provides a huge sense of security.
A Final Note About Lessons from COVID
We’ve discussed in previous blogs, the impact of COVID. For many businesses and people, COVID marks the crisis of a lifetime. As we navigate business post 2020, it’s important to consider the lessons we’ve learned, especially as they relate to responsiveness in business.
Here are some additional marketing and operational things to consider:
- When any emergency happens, what core values define your business?
- What is one key thing you can say about yourself, no matter the challenge or year?
- How can you be creative about staffing, restructuring during both up and down times?
- What expenses or perks do you have now, that you may need to reconsider later?
When the popular chain, Applebees, restructured in the mid- 2010’s, they made a commitment to themselves. We will serve hot food with the coldest beer. It was a simple promise to customers that all employees could get behind. What is your mantra you get behind in times of crisis? Or any time for that matter?
As you consider these questions and business challenges moving ahead, remember HS is always here to help. Our team is happy to be an extension of your team, in times of crisis or any time. Contact us anytime.