By Jason Mudd, APR and Jonathan Bernstein
If you have paid attention to recent events, you know that a crisis can strike any business at any time. Don’t think for a moment that it can’t happen to you.
Natural and manmade disasters happen all the time and often without notice. No one knows when or if events like the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, SARS, anthrax or a tornado or accident may occur. In these times, every business in every community must be prepared. Otherwise, you risk the possibility that the media will drag your company through the ringer and allow the public to judge you by scandalous front-page headlines.
Even if it’s not a scandal, it could result in a devastating event that stops operations for an extended period. No one hopes for or expects such tragedies, but you never know. Preparation is essential. The following steps are great tips for forming a crisis communications plan for your business.
Use these 10 steps to gain the advantage and proactively prepare for the worst.
1. Identify your crisis communications team — a small group of senior executives.
Ideally, the company CEO leads with the top public relations executive and legal counsel as chief advisers.
2. Identify spokespersons.
They are the only ones authorized to speak for the company in times of crisis. Some executives are brilliant at business, but not very effective communicators.
3. Spokesperson training.
Well-intentioned executives believe they don’t need professional training on speaking to the media. Beware. Aggressive reporting and not knowing how to get “the most important news” across to the interviewer can devastate your company.
4. Establish communications protocols.
Establish an emergency communications “tree” and distribute it to all company employees, informing them of what to do and who to call if there’s an actual or potential crisis.
5. Identify and know your audiences – internal and external.
Remember your employees, the community, media, customers, private investors, SEC requirements and regulatory agencies.
6. Anticipate crises.
Be proactive and brainstorm potential crises. Modifying existing methods of operation often can prevent crises. Take time to plan layoffs, acquisitions and other news to avoid operating in crisis mode.
7. Assess the situation.
Reacting without adequate information is a classic “shoot first and ask questions later” scenario. With proper planning, you can follow your own crisis plan.
8. Identify key messages.
Keep it simple with no more than three main messages for all audiences and a few messages targeted specifically at key audiences.
9. Decide on communications methods.
Brief employees, clients, prospects, community and investors personally or via text messages, e-mails, social media. Distribute news releases, letters or hold briefings and news conferences for the media.
10. Ride out the storm.
Some of your audiences will not react the way you want. Take an objective look at the reactions. Decide if making an additional communication is worth the effort.
By following these steps, you can create a plan that you can use at any time in the event of a crisis. Provide copies to all department heads and managers. Keep copies of this plan available as a hard copy and on the computer network. Once you've developed your plan, keep it handy for review and schedule practice drills. Leading your team through a mock crisis helps you all prepare for the real thing; everyone should get together to evaluate the plan after each mock crisis. The crisis team should meet twice a year to review and update the plan.
– Jason Mudd, APR, is CEO of Axia Public Relations. He is an Emmy Award-winning accredited public relations practitioner, speaker, author and entrepreneur. His public relations portfolio includes work for established national and emerging brands such as American Airlines, Budweiser, Dave & Buster’s, Brightway, Florida Blue, H&R Block, Hilton, HP, Miller Lite, New York Life, Pizza Hut, Ray Charles, Southern Comfort, Verizon and more. Connect with Jason on Twitter @jasonmudd9 and Axia Public Relations @axiapr. Be sure to tweet and share your thoughts below. We’ll read and respond to each of them.
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