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Plan For A Crisis To Minimize The Fallout

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Communication Is Key

Imagine the worst-case scenario for your business. Maybe you suffer a cyberattack and your customers’ sensitive data is hacked. Or maybe there is a brutal act of workplace violence. Or maybe a trusted company leader is accused of an unthinkable crime.

Now imagine that, as you’re trying to put out that fire, employees or customers start calling you and asking questions – or even worse, a TV news crew shows up in your lobby demanding answers.

What do you do? Where do you start? What do you say, or do you give the classic, “No comment?” (Spoiler alert: never say that.)

Here’s a rule of thumb: If it impacts the safety or security of your customers or employees, it’s a crisis. Some are just bigger than others. No one is immune, and one thing is for sure – you better be prepared for anything because when a crisis happens, you won’t have time to stop and develop a rational, level-headed communications plan.

Learn more about how to prepare for and manage a crisis. Listen to this episode of Rea’s award-winning podcast, unsuitable on Rea Radio.

Develop A Communications Plan

During a crisis, you won’t have control over much. Just about the only thing you can control is how you respond. And to make sure you respond well, plan it out in advance. Here’s what your crisis communications plan should include:

  • Likely Crisis Scenarios to ensure you’re prepared for anything, as well as possible warning signs and questions that others will ask.
  • Communications Flow Chart (with contact info) to help alert company leaders and other relevant personnel of the crisis and what the next steps will be in handling and communicating the crisis.
  • A Designated Spokesperson who will ensure that a singular message gets out to the media, authorities, customers, and employees to help eliminate confusion and speculation.
  • Communications Guidelines – what you’ll say and what you won’t. Planning this out in advance will help you decide what to say when the heat is on. Also include some best practices and reminders.

Other Tips To Handle A Crisis Like A Boss

Your plan will help you navigate your next steps. But there’s still a lot to consider when managing a crisis. Here are some quick tips to remember to help prevent a crisis from turning into a scandal.

  • Communicate Promptly. You’ll have a small window of time to control what information gets out to the public. As soon as you can confirm information, communicate with relevant audiences (i.e. employees, customers, investors, the media). If you wait too long, the message may start to control you instead of the other way around.
  • Always Tell The Truth – Don’t Lie Or Speculate. If you speculate or try to cover up the truth, you’ll only make things worse. Also, consider how facts may change as the situation unfolds. If you say something that’s true at the time but could eventually change, it could be later misconceived as a lie. And if you don’t have an answer, it’s OK to say that details are still unfolding. Never ever say, “No comment.” This response suggests guilt or that you may be hiding something.
  • Plan Your Message And Practice Ahead Of Time. Plan out three to five key points – if you have any more, you’re more likely to forget and lose your composure.
  • If Necessary, Consult With Your Business Advisors For Advice. Depending on what the crisis is, your outside advisors may be able to provide legal or financial guidance. There are also consultants who specifically deal with crisis communication and management – kind of like Olivia Pope, but on a smaller scale.
  • Consider The Human Element Of The Situation. If it’s a crisis, it’s going to affect someone – whether that’s your customers, your community or your employees and their families. If you value your people (and hopefully you do!), make sure you remember their feelings, security and reputation as you communicate and react to a crisis.

A crisis can be a very scary and uncertain time, and a lot is at stake – human life, data privacy, reputation, and your money. Being prepared and knowing how to navigate and manage a crisis.

By Becca Johns (Dublin office)

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