Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Navigating a Corporate Crisis: Would You Sail or Fail?

Why Every Business Needs A Crisis Management and Crisis Communications Plan

As part of its year-end analysis of 2010, The Wall Street Journal published a post-mortem on the top corporate crises of the year – from BP’s Gulf oil spill to Toyota’s safety recall. With the help of crisis-communications and crisis-management experts, the article briefly examines each crisis, how effectively the company responded, and what the company might have done differently to achieve a better outcome.

While I disagree with some of the statements in the article,* it contains some useful lessons and ideas for every business.

The main lesson: Every company – even smaller businesses – should have a crisis communications plan in place. Smaller companies may not be in the public eye or under government scrutiny as much as larger, publicly held companies. However, smaller companies may be less able than larger companies to absorb the business damage from crises such as a product problem or a fire.

Professional PR or reputation management consultants can often be extremely helpful in such a crisis, but they can be pricey. If you are a smaller business on a tight budget, you can create your own crisis communications plan. It’s mostly common sense.

Here are a few tips:

First, define the most likely crises. What are the most likely crises that could happen in your business? What are the likely elements of the crisis (for example, interest by your local media)? Describe the scenario in detail. You can’t anticipate every possible scenario, obviously, but at least you will have some crisis thinking in place.

Next, outline a brief plan of action for each scenario. For example, in the event of a serious customer complaint that “goes viral” on social media, what is your policy for dealing with customer complaints? Do you refund or replace, without question? Or require a return? Does the policy need to be revisited? Then, define how you will communicate your actions and to which audiences. What’s the most efficient way to reach each audience?

Create a phone or email “tree” of the people in the company who need to be notified or involved in resolving the crisis. Keep it detailed but short and updated. In some cases, you may want to include your legal counsel on the tree.

Identify key members of the media and other important channels for reaching your audience, such as local business leaders or industry analysts. Make sure you have current contact information for each person.

Identify who will be your media spokesperson, and make sure that that person is readily available to the media via cellphone and email.

Write everything down, and share your plan with managers and executives. Make sure that everyone understands the process – and who to contact if they have questions.

Don’t forget employees. Make sure that line employees – often the first people to become aware of a crisis – know the process. Typically, you do not want non-authorized employees speaking to the media on behalf of the company. So, tell employees simply and exactly what they should do. Don’t leave them guessing in the heat of the moment about what to do or who to contact.

Always do a post-mortem. After any crisis, analyze how well your process worked. Update your process as necessary, in writing. Don’t forget to close the loop by briefing employees on how you handled the crisis and answering any questions they may have. Employees also may have ideas for improvement.

Don’t forget social media. Social media can accelerate some crises, by broadcasting the event and enabling lots of public discussion. On the plus side, social media – a company blog, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter – can help assuage crises by giving you a real-time, unfiltered way to convey information and engage in a direct dialog with your audiences.

If you are already using social media, make sure you include social media in your plans. If you are not using social media, familiarize yourself with it now because it more than likely will play a role in your crisis. Members of the traditional media (magazines, newspapers, local media, and Web press) participate in social media, and may use social media discussion as a source for information or stories.

In a crisis, it’s important to respond to public discussion using the same media. For example, if a customer complaint goes viral on Twitter, you must respond on Twitter (although you may use other media as well). That’s where the audience is. Ignore it at your peril.

David Meerman Scott’s book, Real-Time Marketing & PR: How to Instantly Engage Your Market, Connect with Customers, and Create Products that Grow Your Business Now, contains some great advice about using real-time media in a crisis (see pages 124-131).

Obviously, it’s impossible to anticipate every possible crisis. However, if you follow the steps above, you will have a template in place to work from. You won’t be starting with a blank piece of paper if a crisis does happen.

Finally, view every crisis as an opportunity to deepen your engagement with customers. By doing the right thing and communicating it quickly and effectively, you may end up with more customers and an improved reputation.

*Particularly that the oil spill was unexpected (I think it was inevitable)

No comments:

Post a Comment