Will 2019 be a crisis-free year for your company? Most likely not. Most companies and brands experience reputational crises of varying degrees on a regular basis.
By thinking ahead about the mechanics of working through a crisis, you will have a better chance of being able to focus on a meaningful and appropriate response when things go sideways.
Below are some topline tips to keep in mind for getting your crisis plan in order this January.
Identify the team and the deciders
Who will be the people in the room when decisions need to be made? Do you know how to reach them during evening and weekend hours? Who has the final say when a statement needs to be approved? These crisis team members must be identified ahead of time and their contact information should be kept up to date and easily accessible.
Think about your brand ambassadors
Employees, third-party organizations and partners are all brand ambassadors who merit special status when it comes to receiving corporate communiqués, good or bad. Work these audiences into your crisis plan right next to customers and your legions of social media followers. Determine how you will communicate bad news to them, and what the message will be.
Spot potential issues
Spend some time identifying potential issues that could arise and thinking about the necessary steps you’ll need to take to acknowledge, apologize and ameliorate. It may make sense to start drafting issue-specific messages, holding statements, letters and FAQs for your most common crisis scenarios.
Talk to reporters now
When bad news is breaking, you’d rather work with a reporter you can trust. A crisis is not the time to be building relationships with journalists who follow your company. Develop solid connections with reporters by giving them access to information that they need to do their jobs, by bringing them thoughtful pitches and being respectful of their time and deadlines. Building a foundation beforehand gives you insights into their approach and makes it more likely that they’ll come to you first with an opportunity to tell your story.
Pay attention to the devilish details
If a crisis happens on a weekend, will you have access to the social media calendar to halt scheduled (and possibly inappropriate) social media posts? Who will communicate with administrative staff regarding what to say Monday morning when reporters start calling? When a crisis hits, you don’t want to be stuck dealing with every little detail. Assign roles to cover every base now so that when it’s crunch time, you can focus on the issue at hand.
Prepare spokespeople now
Naturally gifted spokespeople are unicorns. The truth is, 99.9 percent of us need to practice answering even seemingly basic questions when we’re on the spot. Executives should be media trained and regularly talking to journalists in order to hone their skills.
Low-stakes interviews make great practice for speaking with reporters and developing message discipline. When the time comes, make sure your spokespeople are well versed in the key messages and ready to respond to difficult questions. Note that you may need multiple spokespeople depending on geographic regions or industries involved.
Be a communications leader who shines
A crisis can be an opportunity to deepen customer relationships, fix broken processes, showcase a brand’s identity, and above all, demonstrate your reputation management prowess to the C-suite. With a little preparation, you will be able to focus most of your energy on a thoughtful crisis response rather than the mechanics.
What crisis communication planning does your team have in place? Do you feel prepared to handle a PR crisis?