Weathering the Crisis Communications Storm
Okay, time for a pop quiz!
- Is your company facing any reputational risks?
- What would happen if a member of your leadership team resigned today? Was arrested?
- What would you do if the FDA recalled one of your products?
If your company doesn’t know the answers to these questions, you could find yourself in the middle of a crisis storm in the worst way possible – unprepared.
A company’s reputation is based on three things: what the company says, what it does and what the general public thinks and says. The latter is most important and the one factor you can’t control. However, whether the public has a negative, neutral or positive opinion, actions can always be taken to safeguard or improve reputation. Warren Buffett once said: “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”
Reputation management is a 24/7 gig. It’s anticipating events or news that will negatively affect your company’s reputation, and having a plan to address issues immediately. The plan can be a basic outline of information, such as who should be notified if the unthinkable occurs, who’s the spokesperson for incoming questions and what are the key messages. A more elaborate plan would include drafts of customer letters, a press release and pre-written copy for the company’s website. While a complete “storm manual” is ideal, a few basics are better than nothing.
Crisis preparedness is similar to storm preparation in that you stock up on non-perishable items. For hurricanes, it’s non-perishable food. For a crisis, focus on gathering all of the “non-perishable” facts about the situation. These are proof points that will not change – such as an existing company policy. Share this information and basic FAQs with the individuals responsible for answering questions on behalf of your company, so they are confident in their responses.
However, unlike for an impending hurricane, don’t board up the windows. Lines of communication should be left open – not closed. When a crisis strikes, have clear channels for addressing concerns, whether that’s extending customer service phone support hours or expanding social media management teams to monitor those platforms. Also, don’t turn people away. Sometimes before and during storms, citizens are sent away from the city. During a crisis, no one with a question should be turned away. Whatever happens, “No comment,” is not an appropriate answer unless you’d like to give the impression you’re trying to hide something by avoiding the question.
How will your company handle its next crisis communications storm? If it’s not clear, be prepared for some very rough weather.