Even the most well-oiled machine is going to run into a couple of hiccups now and then.
Take a step back and think about the complexity of your business for a moment. Even a small- or medium-sized business can have dozens of vendors. What if one of them turns out to be the latest victim of a supply chain crisis and you can’t fill a crucial customer order?
Similarly, your business may have dozens of employees. Can you be sure they’re all keeping it classy on social media?
In our complex business environment, a crisis can pop up anywhere: A fire at a branch office. A cybersecurity breach. A partnership with an important partner going unexpectedly bad.
In the physical world, businesses protect the well-being of their employees by establishing emergency preparedness plans. In the world of IT, businesses have contingencies within contingencies built to respond in the event of data theft or other cyber-attacks.
But in the world of communications – where the public’s perception of your business’ strength, security, ongoing viability, and value is determined – companies frequently have no plan in place at all to deal with a crisis.
Every Hour – And Sometimes Every Minute – Counts
When a crisis occurs, it’s a good bet that media members will jump on it. And once they do, it usually becomes very clear, very quickly which companies have a plan in place and which are improvising.
What processes have you established to get to the bottom of the problem? If you need to issue a holding statement to members of the media while you conduct your internal diligence, do you know who is on deck to draft it and what parameters it should follow?
Under which circumstances should you get your General Counsel involved, and what will he or she need to know? If the GC is out of town, who is the backup? Do you have emergency contact information for that person?
Do you have a designated crisis response team that can be contacted and dialed into a conference line in 15 minutes or less?
Is law enforcement involved in the crisis situation? If yes, are you prepared to move quickly in case their actions or investigations demand real-time reactions?
On a normal business day, when the pressure is off, none of these questions may seem that difficult to answer. But when a crisis hits and members of your team are forced to scramble to address these process challenges – all while reporters are potentially talking to sources and writing their stories – having to figure out the answers to these questions can cost an organization precious minutes or even hours.
In such a situation, an unprepared company can easily find the story moving ahead with a life of its own, before it has any chance to impact the narrative or convey a sense of control or competence. Worse still, reporters may pick up on this lack of preparation, injecting an element of chaos into the resulting coverage and causing severe impacts on long-term perceptions of the company’s management strength.
Take the Time to Plan Ahead
The good news is that this scenario doesn’t have to happen to your business. Working with a team of solid professionals, you can take action now to plan ahead, game out potential crisis scenarios; designate the right resources, team leads, and responsibilities; and make sure that lines of communication, diligence processes, and guidelines for crafting an appropriate response are well-identified and clear before a crisis situation puts you and your business on the spot.
A crisis can not only damage the real-time profitability and security of your business or employees – it can also prove deeply value-destructive over the long term if it’s not contained quickly. Business leaders should work to put a solid crisis comms plan in place long before they see storm clouds on the horizon.