Follow the Leaders
How prepared are you for a crisis? As business owners, we’re often mired down in the minutiae of everyday operational, employee and financial issues – able to plan only so far ahead. But it’s important to stop and consider the consequences of a real business crisis. A product malfunction, a breach of security, a serious accident, a policy change, a plant closing, a rogue employee – these are things that, if mishandled, could ultimately disable your business and damage your reputation.
It’s a scary proposition, but worth your attention now. Says Brian Chandler, President of Commonwealth Public Relations and our most recent Knowledge Network meeting moderator, “It is inevitable that something will happen. It might be small, it might be large, but you’ve got to have a communication plan in place.” The consensus around the room was that very few did.
Our Knowledge Network panel consisted of a highly successful national and international franchisor and a PR and public affairs executive with 25 years of experience – both VACEOs members. As long-time business owners, both were familiar with navigating potential crisis situations, and the topic sparked many serious and eye-opening conversations with the panel and among participants.
If you find yourself in a crisis, keep these few takeaways from the Knowledge Network discussion in mind. Of course, the best defense is having a basic plan in place now. Will you take heed? Or are you willing to put your business at risk?
IT STARTS WITH A PLAN
1. Designate the right Point Person. (Surprise: It may not be you!)
2. Know your message points and stick to them.
3. Communicate often and use social media.
4. Don’t forget to communicate to your internal team.
5. Keep your promises.
A quick tip about your Point Person: The best person for the job may not be you, the CEO. Choose the person who makes the most sense from an internal and/or strategic standpoint. If a change management policy coming from the top is causing a stir at the local dealership in Hoboken, it may be beneficial to have a local representative on site to diffuse the situation, for example.
THE MEDIA…YOUR ENEMY OR SAVIOR? YOU DECIDE
Our PR experts agree: Saying, “No comment” is about the same as saying, “Just write what you want.” If you leave a void, the media will find a way to fill it. Our experts also agree that building relationships with local writers and press is very important. Reach out to them for story ideas, offer quotes, become the “go-to expert” in their eyes. When a crisis occurs, be sure to share the story with them first.
According to one panel member, “Your goal during a crisis is to be prepared, be genuine and be responsive.” This advice may sound obvious, but if you find that your Facebook and Twitter accounts are blowing up, there’s a line of employees outside your door wanting to speak with you, and the media is on the phone, it may be too late.
THE BEST OFFENSE IS…
Really, the best offense is a good defense. Be proactive NOW. Besides taking your local Op-Ed columnist to lunch:
1. Prepare a crisis communications document. List specific names and cell numbers of individuals who are the most important for you to reach in a time of crisis. Include local police leadership, media contacts, your PR person, board members, etc.
2. Have a social media plan in place. Re-communicate your policy to your employees regarding crisis situations.
3. Consider hiring a PR firm. Ask for crisis training and video practice sessions.
4. Recognize potential hazards before they happen. Learn from the stories of the day and consider how you would respond.