How the right communications plan can make all the difference.
If your business were to face a crisis scenario next week, what would you do? Is there a plan in place? Who is the spokesperson? Would you know what to say if a news reporter showed up at your door?
The ability to respond effectively to that inevitable negative incident is the ultimate test of management, your internal processes and your company’s corporate culture.
When handled well, a crisis can be an opportunity to improve your products and services and build a positive image for your company. While the incident itself might only have a short-term impact on your day-to-day operations, how you respond to the incident will be remembered in the long-run, and can have a major impact on your brand.
The key is communication. When you get this right, your company has a better chance of enjoying brand health, business growth and reputational resilience.
Here are the key steps to consider when planning your crisis communications response.
Identify potential risks
Look at your business from the ‘outside-in’ and identify scenarios that could affect you operationally. Remember not everything is a crisis, but if the event impacts the day-to-day running of your business you need to have a plan in place. An example of a crisis could be an employee or customer death, warehouse fire, cyber-attack or e-commerce failure.
List the key audiences your business deals with and consider the implications a crisis could have on them. Include all stakeholders from customers, prospects and employees to suppliers and industry partners. Consider how you interact with each of these groups and deploy these lines of communication during a crisis.
Identify internal teams
Specifically, you need to identify who will ‘front’ the issue and be the spokesperson, both internally to staff/management and externally. Does this person require media training in advance? It is essential that an incident flow chart is developed that details responsibilities and contact details for all involved.
For example, who calls whom, who writes a customer letter, who manages the website, who liaises with the media, who fields calls and manages social? Would additional staff be required to assist making customer phone calls? Once developed, these plans and procedures need to be shared with all staff.
Prepare and test
While it is essential that an organisation of any size has a detailed crisis plan in place, unless the plan is regularly tested and trialled, it will be of no use in a real scenario. It is critical to run regular workshops, training and tabletop exercises so that internal teams are familiar with the response process. Test the plan by generating mock-up scenarios, fake social posts and customer complaints to test the team and the resilience of the plan.
What to say
In a time of uncertainty people want information and regular updates. The key rule is that you don’t need to say a lot but you do need to say something and as a company speak with ‘one voice’. It is always best to avoid jargon, industry speak and acronyms, tell the truth (never use the term no comment as it implies guilt) and remember nothing is ever truly ‘off the record’.
While no organisation welcomes a crisis or negative event, there must be an internal paradigm shift which views such an incident as an opportunity to improve the business. Anticipating and role playing negative situations is the best way to be prepared and ready to respond in a real scenario. If you communicate well, your business will be seen as resilient and strong, with a positive brand reputation.
Chris Gray is Managing Director of Daylight Agency, an integrated communications agency helping businesses achieve the right balance between brand promotion and brand protection. Our services include reputation management, public relations, advertising & production, marketing, digital & social media. For more infomation, visit www.daylightagency.com.au