Develop a crisis communications strategy now

For years, your company has made good choices and positively impacted the communities and employees it serves. You have a stellar reputation — perhaps even a Pillar Award on display — and your employees feel like family. And then it happens. The unexpected situation that has the power to undo decades of good work in the blink of an eye.

Whether there’s a massive recall or tragedy, a crushing review that goes viral, or a global pandemic that threatens the lives of those in your care, crises happen. And how an organization reacts to them can make or break its reputation with customers, community and employees for years to come.

Handling a crisis well not only protects a business’s reputation, it can also improve it. Jeni’s Ice Cream was universally praised for its responsible handling of its product safety crisis. Prior to that, Johnson & Johnson managed the deadly Tylenol crisis of 1982 so well it maintained its 37 percent pre-crisis market share, when one would have expected the crisis to shutter the brand. Both companies were transparent in sharing the harsh realities, swift in pulling products off shelves and made it clear they put customer safety above profits.

So, how can you protect your organization’s reputation? Start planning today. Crisis communication plans are more critical now than ever. With today’s 24/7 news, social media and online reviews, news can be shared and amplified faster and farther than ever before.

Know who’s on first. A business must respond promptly, accurately and confidently during an emergency in the hours and days that follow. To do that, it’s wise to have a plan in place that identifies decision-makers, spokespeople, stakeholders and first-call protocols.

Safety first. Attending to the safety and health of any persons involved is always the priority. Get all facts surrounding the situation and plan a communication strategy.

Communicate, communicate, communicate! Communicate regularly and honestly. Be transparent and proactive in communicating to your employees, the media, customers and vendors, even if you don’t have all the answers.

Include social media in your plan. According to a survey commissioned by Twitter, 61 percent of respondents feel that brands should acknowledge crises as they happen through their advertising and communications. Modern consumers place a high value on trust and transparency, and failure to acknowledge a crisis on social media platforms not only allows gossip and “fake news” to evolve but sends a message to consumers that a business has something to hide. Incorporate social media strategy into the crisis communication plan and put it into action immediately.

Don’t keep your team in the dark. Employees are the lifeblood of a company. They deserve to know what’s going on. If kept informed and reassured the organization is doing the right things, they will support the company. Keep them in the dark and the silence will allow space for fear and resentment to grow.

Be prepared. Crises happen. Handled well, a crisis can be a catalyst to elevate an organization in the eyes of its customers and strengthen its team. Create a plan when there is no crisis and inform the team how to respond ahead of time. A crisis communications plan may not foresee all potential land mines, but when they hit, having a plan in place will provide a calm and clear vision to navigate a successful outcome. ●

Kelly Borth is CEO and chief strategy officer at GREENCREST

Kelly Borth

CEO and chief strategy officer


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