It’s a fact of life; mistakes happen, problems arise. It’s no different in business. Unlike personal crises, a crisis in business often plays out in public.
Bad press and/or a damaged public perception can be devastating to a business. However a well-managed crisis will not only protect hard-earned credibility, it can garner favorable press and improve the reputation of a business. Two critical preparations are essential: define a crisis communication team and develop a crisis communication plan.
A crisis communication team should be comprised of a team of public relations specialists and two key company officers. This team will formulate a detailed plan in the event of a possible crisis. They will organize all information that is delivered to the media and designate a primary spokesperson. Each member’s responsibilities and authority should be clearly defined. Generally, all employees or stakeholders should not have media contact.
The crisis communication team will arrange for access to a crisis site, accommodate the media’s needs, arrange third-party assurances that the company’s actions are appropriate, prepare press releases and post Web-announcements. The crisis communication team should also manage all internal communication and provide updates to employees. Employees must receive information from the crisis communication team, rather than hear it through the media. Remember, the press may attempt to entice any employee to speak.
Additionally, a useful crisis communication plan should contain updated company policy guidelines, a press kit, a general prepared statement that projects a responsible image, and a series of talking points for potential crises that can be identified in advance.
Recognize the importance of contacting the media first. Do not wait for the media to contact the company; decide to go public if the team deems it necessary. All subsequent media inquires should be received by a public relations specialist. Retain a company officer to be available to the media. They must be fully informed prior to each media contact.
Maintain honest and friendly relations with key media operatives. Although it is natural to be protective of your business during a crisis, closing down communications is more harmful than helpful. It is in your business’s best interest to facilitate media efforts and be a positive influence on any story the media develops. Make sure that any information provided to the media is accurate and answers the basic “who, what, when, where and how.” It could take some time to answer “why.” Never say “no comment.”