Almost every day we watch a crisis unfold on the evening news. We review how it was handled and make judgments on how those responsible performed – good, bad or indifferent. Are you prepared for the crisis coming your way? How will you be judged?
A crisis, by definition and by everyday experience, takes on many shapes and forms. But in a business context, it most pronouncedly consists of any situation where human life or property is in peril or when any organization, business or brand is at risk for misconduct or customer breech. Issues are not necessarily one in the same with every crisis but they can often become such if not properly managed. Suffice to say, “You will know crisis when you see it,” is a fair prognostication for any organization and its management.
It is for these very reasons that Crisis Management and effective Crisis Communications is absolutely vital. No matter how small the organization or business, no matter how remote its chances for crisis, it is socially and economically irresponsible to not be ready. In fact, a strong Crisis Management/Crisis Communications plan is the best way to minimize revenue loss and avoid liability and legal consequences.
To put this in perspective, let’s look at a real life example:
When a storm of epic proportions hit and crippled an entire city, a major hotel centrally located downtown was impacted like everyone else, but with auxiliary power and some in-house staff it was able to continue limited operation. It was essential to quickly communicate its status and help manage the crisis by providing accommodations to first responders, key officials and the media.
The property had a strong Crisis Management/Crisis Communications plan in place which they were able to activate immediately. With the help of a crisis communications expert, the implementation of the plan was seamless and vital to the storm response. Contact with proper officials, the media and others – as laid out and prescribed in the plan – assured knowledge of the limited operating capability at the hotel and its ability to provide residence for mission critical guests. Effective media contact not only conveyed accurate news about the hotel’s situation, but also resulted in housing the media and setting up locations for on-air reports and coverage.
The framework of a Crisis Management Plan allowed the hotel to function instantly and properly in the face of what it confronted. Guests had been informed and securely evacuated before the storm, and after the storm essential guests were safely received at the hotel. National news coverage not only reported the overall condition of the city, but also the role that the hotel was playing in the aftermath. The hotel was complimented across the board rather than criticized for any confusion or labeled insufficient. The GM said, “The crisis plan and the fact that we had actually practiced it in advance put us in a better place than almost anyone else in the city.”
While larger, more complicated organizations and companies may require a crisis plan of substantial scope and scale, for the most part an effective Crisis Management/Crisis Communications Plan can be and should be brief and very workable. Basically, it needs to consist of identifying all the right people who need to be involved and bear responsibility as well as all of the necessary activities that need to be conducted immediately. Also, essential to the plan and process is messaging and audience, with a special emphasis on media. Development of the plan should begin with the proper level of executive authorization, identification of key team members, an assessment of the organization’s primary areas of crisis and issues risk, and the selection and assignment of the work team to execute the plan. Outside experts and advisers can speed the process and the quality of the plan based on their creation of other plans and their real-time experience in handling crisis and issues. Regular updates, training sessions and selection of organization spokesperson(s) is a critical part of the plan’s implementation and management. To develop a plan without ever practicing or testing it is a foolish use of time and budget.
There is an expectation and mandate today for organizations of all sizes and shapes to have at least a minimum Crisis Management/Crisis Communications Plan in place. It is among the strongest components to minimize revenue loss, avoid protracted legal and liability issues, and restore the organization to business as usual and good customer confidence as quickly as possible. Brand and image are always among any organizations most valuable assets. The Crisis Management/Crisis Communications Plan underpins the protection of those assets.