By Evan Nierman, founder and CEO of Red Banyan, a strategic PR and crisis consulting firm that serves clients around the world.
Plan for the worst and hope for the best. It’s a saying you’ve probably heard many times, but when you’re running a business, it’s never a good idea to leave anything to chance. These days, PR crisis planning is essential, especially with the real-time threat posed by social media, should something go awry. A negative scenario can quickly spiral out of control and cause lasting destruction if you’re not prepared to act fast. Every company needs a damage control plan in place.
Disaster often strikes with little warning, but if you’re prepared to act, you can move forward with minimal damage to your business operations. It’s important to contain a crisis and get the narrative under control so you can share your company’s perspective on your terms. This will reduce misinformation and allow you to remind customers why they should be loyal to your brand, even in tough times. Businesses without a PR crisis plan may find themselves playing defense and fending off criticism instead of guiding the conversation and setting the tone.
The very existence of your company can depend on effectively containing a crisis and recovering from the impact. It’s also good business: A poorly managed crisis can destroy a company’s reputation that took years to build. Here are five steps you can take to begin crisis planning before a disaster and help your business move forward:
1. Consider where your company is exposed to risk.
Crisis planning will help you define what constitutes a crisis. The key factors to consider are those situations most likely to occur in your industry. For instance, if you are a roofing company, then expect that at some point you could have a worker get injured in a fall, or that a roof could give way, resulting in injuries to a customer. Also, think about past incidents that have caused any degree of disruption to your organization so that you can be prepared in the event that they recur. Make sure you know who could be impacted by a company crisis and be ready to inform them fast.
2. Develop messaging for potential scenarios.
Reacting spontaneously to a crisis is not what you want to do when your company’s long-term reputation is at stake. Companies that are most likely to not just survive but actually thrive during a crisis are those that have invested time in advance to consider what could go wrong. They have a crisis plan in place to draw upon at any time. In sports, how you practice is how you play, and the same is true in business. Run simulations to expose the gaps and ensure that you are prepared for any eventuality.
3. Know how you’re going to disseminate your message.
This is key to an effective communications strategy that will keep your company rolling. Having a go-to plan can eliminate headaches and clear up any confusion. Putting that message out there means being ready to share information on a wide range of platforms. Consider the various channels at your disposal, including websites, social media platforms, press releases, TV appearances, press conferences and internal memos to staff.
4. Appoint key players and develop relevant policy.
Do you have a media spokesperson in place? Are employees allowed to talk to reporters? A PR crisis plan should determine who your key players are, what information they will need to have and when they’ll need it. Make sure that the face of your company is someone with unfettered access to the latest, most accurate information involving the situation and has experience speaking publicly and interacting with reporters.
5. Be prepared to take responsibility.
Public relations and crisis management will help you retain good customer relations through communications that convey facts and information that is essential to operations. If something went wrong, own it. If you handled a situation poorly, explain what happened and how you will do better in the future. Accountability is the key to credibility. You can win back customer trust by maintaining steady lines of communication. No plan equals no trust. Public perception of how you handle a crisis will positively or negatively affect a client’s image of your business.
In short, planning for the worst and preparing to face the most likely obstacles will help you control communications and protect your company’s most prized possession: its reputation.