MARLTON, N.J. — Do you have a crisis communication plan in place? Do you know what one is? Do the people who work for you know what one is? Do you think you don’t need one? Think again.
Crisis communications is how you and your employees respond in the event of a crisis. Most crisis communications are done while the crisis is occurring. This is the worst time to be devising your crisis communication plan. We buy insurance for our businesses in the event of a crisis. We write a will in the event of our demise, but we don’t do a good job of planning what we want said and who we want to say it in the event of a crisis. Even if you are a company with just a few employees, you need to have a crisis communication plan in place and communicated to your organization before the crisis ever occurs. The plan is simply a set of rules on how to behave if approached to speak on behalf of the company to the media or others.
Developing a crisis communication plan should be ongoing. Once you have the original plan in place and you have taught and communicated it to your staff, you need to constantly review it and add to it. These plans should always be a work in process. They should never be static as the environment we work in is always changing.
1. The first step in the process is determining who you want to speak for your company. There really should only be one spokes person. You should choose and train an alternate in the unlikely event that the communication is about you or your demise.
2. Once you have selected the spokesperson, seek the advice of an expert. We have all watched the news where someone who was probably a very good business person is making a fool of himself speaking from the cuff. Even seasoned veterans can come off as buffoons. Learning how to say it and what to say will make your company come out of a crisis with your reputation intact. How you and your employees act can make or break your company. Here’s the scenario: Your bus is in an accident and you just this second heard about it. Your reservationist tells you that the driver is on the phone. You pick up the blinking line, but instead of the driver, you have picked up a call from a local reporter who wants a statement from the company. Are you prepared to handle this call? You haven’t even gotten all of the details and now you need to react. This scenario happens consistently. Learn what to say and not to volunteer any more information than what is being requested. When you don’t know an answer, state that and let the reporter know that you will advise then of the answer in a timely matter. Never ad lib to the media.
3. Pre-Plan. Sit down and write a list of every type of crisis that could possibly happen in your company. The most apparent would be an accident where there is harm or loss of life to a passenger. There could be a fire in your office. An employee could be arrested. These are all types of things that we see on the news every day of the week. After you make the list, come up with what you would like communicated in each of those scenarios. Put it aside and review it again in a few days. Then talk to your legal counsel and see how he feels. You might be surprised when the holes are shot through it. What we say and what is conveyed may come off as two entirely different things. Remember that perception is reality. Thinking and preparing now could make the difference of surviving afterwards.
4. Devise a set of rules and guidelines on how your staff should respond if questioned. Make sure they know who the company spokesperson is and exactly why you have put together this plan and this practice. Make sure when you put together training for new hires that you include crisis communications. There are many canned templates for these plans on the internet. Do your homework and find one that fits your organization.
Put together an ongoing training program for crisis communications. This topic should be addressed regularly with your staff. Consider videotaping the training along with some role playing. This will help reinforce why crisis communication is so important. Putting the plan together without conveying it to your staff is equal to not having a plan at all.
Crisis communications should be in the vocabulary of you and everyone who works for you. With any type of crisis communication, cool heads will prevail. A little bit of preparation today can make the difference for the future.
Source: Linda Moore, LCT Magazine