Linda Smith, Managing Partner and President of Toronto-based firm Smithcom, lays out what you need to get ahead of a crisis
Why you need a crisis management plan
When a crisis hits, management often become overwhelmed as they experience a fast-moving situation that is negatively impacting their business. And in the age of social media that can be a few short hours. Being prepared for a variety of crisis scenarios can make the difference between your leaders effectively managing a crisis or stakeholders and media gaining control of a situation. Companies that have a crisis management plan that has been socialized internally or used as the basis for a crisis simulation will generate better decision making, speed and effective communications, and ultimately a superior result.
Plans that are created and not socialized with the management team tend to be less useful.And theoretical plans are not useful. Not ever. However, an upfront reminder in the crisis plan of the company’s values as a guidepost for decision making is useful.
Good crisis management plans are designed to create the organizational structure and principles that will first get a crisis team though Day 1 and then once roles are set, help them effectively manage after that. Plans need to be helpful, and to be helpful they need to be specific. Of course, they need to be modified to fit the reality of the situation you are facing, but a solid plan is a great head start.
The crisis management plan should reflect a few basic scenarios and identify team members for each situation. The team who will manage the operations and communications during a major fire will be different from the team needed to manage allegations of sexual harassment in the C-Suite. Then the plan needs to determine immediate roles and actions for those team members. Creating a check list for the senior team saves time even if they modify the actions to be taken.
Prewriting messages that capture appropriate Empathy, Action (including major decisions) and a Description of the situation also save time. I created that simple formula many years ago and it always saves time. Other consultants may have similar formulas.
Your communications team is essential from monitoring and responding to earned and social media, media training, supporting internal and other stakeholder communications, and creating video footage. Make sure you are adequately resourced and consider external advisors who will help you take control of the situation. Their various roles can be detailed in the crisis management plan.
Leading with transparency, sincerity and honesty is an approach that people respect.
Customers know when a company is lying or avoiding an issue, and most often these actions will only serve to exacerbate the crisis. Depending on the situation, sometimes you may want to consider others taking the lead as an industry issue, but bad strategy and ineffective management can cause a problem to completely unravel.
Being prepared can save you money, time and your reputation. Investing the time to draft a crisis PR plan is a much more cost-effective and rational choice than scrambling when disaster strikes. It’s necessary to take crisis management seriously and plan ahead, so that your team is well-prepared to respond quickly, and in the age of social media, at a moment’s notice.
Here’s the plug for a consultancy partner. You’re not alone. Consult with a crisis management advisor to manage your reputation before, during, and after a crisis. They will help you make better decisions and respond quickly and effectively.
A communications professional shares their knowledge, expertise and guidance to build the best crisis management plan for your company. At Smithcom, we work with your team to clearly and concisely plan, make good decisions (versus just responding to inquiry), manage and communicate effectively. Remember you want to control your own narrative.