It’s Week Two of a new year, and have you written your crisis communications plan yet? Perhaps you’ve made a few resolutions, made a list of business goals, new targets, or even prepared your taxes (…or not). But in the midst of all this tidying, promising and preparation, don’t forget to organize for the worst. In today’s world, your reputation is your most valuable asset and an outside force can quickly change it.
A look at some of 2011’s headline grabbers show plenty of examples of individuals and brands that saw their situation change on a dime: Anthony Wiener thought no one was looking; top-brand Pepsi fell to third place behind Coke and Diet Coke (will soda wars be back?); and a Japanese earthquake left manufacturers without power and parts, creating a trickle down effect for retailers around the globe.
A crisis comes in many forms: an accusation, a natural disaster, a crime, or simply a naughty deed revealed. With a thorough crisis communications plan, you can respond with dignity, clarity and the right actions.
Here are three elements that should be part of your crisis response plan:
1. Have a chain of command. Whether planning for an organization or one individual, decide who will be part of a response team and make sure those individuals can contact one another in multiple ways. (This is especially important in the event of a disaster that hinders physical access to headquarters or to power.) Final authority should be vested with one clear leader. The chain of command also will identify who is authorized to make statements to the press, legal authorities, and customers.
2. Know your key audiences and how to reach them. The audiences most important to you may include customers, vendors, investors, and employees. Your communications response should include instructions for how to reach each of these groups via the communication channel typically used with that segment. To reach customers, for example, your crisis plan might include instructions for how to activate a “dark” area of the corporate website pre-loaded with crisis messages, or how to e-mail your customer database with one click. It should include contact information for Board members and key financial media that follow your company, and a list of the most influential reporters tracking your organization or chief personality.
3. Expect it to be in the news. Don’t assume you can keep it under wraps. If you can, that’s amazing. In most cases, if handled well, you will make it look like a “so what?” story. Speak accurately, factually, and without inferring blame on another person or thing until you can prove it. If they’re hounding you for answers and you don’t have them, let reporters know when you can respond or when you expect to have more information.
Let these core elements guide you as you plan for a worst-case scenario. Spend time discussing it internally and revisit possible threats for you or your business at least quarterly. Most importantly, here’s to hoping you won’t need it in 2012!