Crisis time?

CrisisHere’s how to prepare for a PR disaster…

Most large corporates will have multi-spectrum crisis communication plans in place to deal with unexpected crises that can adversely affect their business reputation and stakeholder relations. For small business owners the resources and budget needed to commission a detailed crisis communication plan is often not available. What then can you do to prepare for such an eventuality?

Be proactive

No matter how dire the crisis it always reflects favourably when a company is proactive in their dealings with media and puts themselves at the forefront of stories, supplying the facts whether negative or positive. Clear and regular media and internal communication should be maintained to resolve the crisis with a minimum amount of long term damage.

Understand the crisis

Analyse and determine the severity of the crisis and where it emanates from. This can be done by asking the following questions and doing internal and media market research:

  • How is your company involved in the crisis?
  • Who are the other major players?
  • What media coverage has already appeared?
  • Who are the main players being quoted in the media, and
  • Is there truth behind your company’s alleged involvement in the scandal?

Once you’ve answered these questions, a basic crisis communications plan can be drafted and disseminated within the company to ensure consistency of statements made to consumers and media and to show staff and stakeholders alike that a proactive tactic is being used to head off a potential disaster.

Poor internal communication is the #1 reason for most crises turning from molehills into mountains.

Compile a crisis communications plan

1. Brainstorm the potential hazards – called red flags – the crisis may pose to your businesses.
2. Draft a brief summary of each red flag and the specific issues at hand including a date line for reference.
3. Compile a bank of information with some background facts and information relevant to each red flag.
4. Compile a list with the names and contact details for the designated spokesperson, often the small business owner himself. Staff must not submit their own comments but refer all calls and questions to the designated spokesperson.
5. Compile a very brief one or two sentence statement for each red flag which will be the company holding statement on a specific issue. Should a crisis break, this holding statement needs to be repeated time and again by all employees and don’t forget about front line staff i.e. reception, security etc. Never attempt to paint over the situation or place the blame elsewhere – this is almost worse than saying “no comment”.
6. Draft a media release (no more than 800 words) that states the facts and can be sent out to any media that contact your company for comment.
7. Include contact details for the designated spokesperson in all communications.

Don’t forget that in this day of instant information gratification through internet search engines and websites, the media and general public have access to a large portion of your businesses collateral such as the names and contact details of your employees, stakeholders, customers, clients, trade partners, suppliers and so on. When a crisis breaks consumers will call any telephone number at hand in order to find out what is happening, especially if they are unable to reach you or your company.

What have you learnt?

Once the crisis is over a concise key learnings presentation should be drafted and sent to all involved, but don’t wait until the facts are cold. This presentation will include a full action plan of what could be done differently should there be a future crisis and what areas were lacking and could be improved from the crisis just passed. This must also be regularly updated and made available to all staff and stakeholders.

Positive media coverage can influence public opinion in a big way, so whilst sending out the holding statements and media releases keep sending out positive media coverage. If public opinion is already on your side it makes it that much easier to win people’s favour back after a negative situation.

*Author: Kate Thompson, Magna Carta Public Relations. This article first appeared in Your Business Magazine.