A disastrous event at work has many downsides. There could injuries or even fatalities. Serious property damage is a possibility. And production, sales, even basic operations could grind to a halt.
Intangible things like your company’s brand also needs to be considered. That is why public relationship must be planned and handled appropriately because damage to your company’s brand could be as difficult to overcome as physical damage.
Most companies aren’t ready. According to PR experts Padilla, most companies get failing grades in being prepared to respond to a crisis. The firm’s data shows that:
- 31 percent of companies are ready for a crisis
- 50 percent feel they don’t have the right talent to manage a crisis
- 60 percent have not drilled on the plan in the past two years
- Only 33 percent can responds with a press release within 30 minutes
Face the music
Those who are experienced in crisis management say it is more a matter of “when” than “if” a crisis will happen to your business. They may not all be high-profile events, but some kind of serious event or problem will crop up at some point.
Those in the PR community say it’s important to respond quickly and with empathy when an event happens. Companies should have a designated spokesperson who quickly shows that the company:
- Cares about the people (consumers or workers) who are affected by a disaster
- Takes responsibility for any shortcomings in initial response
- Is working with the proper authorities in addressing and investigating the problem
- Will keep the public posted on further developments
Spokespersons should also show gratitude to the community and first responders for assistance and good will. They should not speculate or freelance about the event—share only known facts. If it’s appropriate, educating the public on broader issues raised by the crisis will give the media more to work with.
The worst time to handle a crisis…
…is when you’re experiencing one. A crisis plan should be developed and rehearsed before any crisis occurs. Different events may require different tactics and responses, but the basics of addressing the media and reassuring the public are going to be very similar for many, if not all, types of events.
Experts say that the first hours of a crisis can determine the success or failure of the response plan. So companies must be sure that their response can happen quickly and efficiently. Be sure to have backups if key personnel are out of town, for example. Know who is available on the weekends. Have templates for statement ready to go and make sure they are available even if power is out or a facility is inaccessible.
It is also important to note that any company in this position has some legal risks as well. Your crisis communications team should coordinate with your company’s legal team in making a plan; when the plan goes live, interaction with the legal team is highly advisable. The two teams should work closely together when a crisis strikes.
There are some basic truisms of modern media. For one, conventional media always look for conflicts. The “if it bleeds, it leads,” approach has been a cliché for decades, and there’s really no reason to think this will change anytime soon. Sensationalism is “baked in” to traditional media. Expect it, plan for it, and don’t over-react if it seems unfair. Stick to your message, and continue to work with the media in getting that message across.
At the same time, the brave new world of social media continues to grow in its ability to shape narratives and opinions. Do not neglect social media considerations when crafting your crisis management communications strategy. Many companies have PR or communications people dedicated to social media for day-to-day operations. They should be included in disaster planning as well. For smaller companies, knowing where to turn for quick advice and help is essential.
For crisis events, which can negatively affect your company’s brand, it’s important to get help and advice from consultants who have experience with crisis management. These are not impossible tasks, but preparation and a good communication strategy is essential to manage this particular type of crisis.