The unexpected, by definition, can come at any time. And no business is bulletproof. If you're unprepared, the unexpected can be your business’s greatest vulnerability.
A natural disaster such as a hurricane, flood, wildfire or earthquake could arise and destroy the company’s physical assets. Or a theft, a sudden death of a key executive, a bad investment, a scandal or a social-media crisis could damage a company’s financial health.
How a company responds to a crisis or an unexpected event affects its credibility and resilience. Can it bounce back quickly without much intervention? Will restoring to its pre-crisis status require aggressive tactics or will the business fail to survive?
Developing a crisis-communications response plan is essential for any business.
These are sobering statistics, but many businesses begin with very little preparation for potential problems. And when something drastic happens, business owners can make fatal mistakes by ignoring or not taking a problem seriously, addressing the situation too late or simply not knowing what to say or how to act.
So when bad things happen to your business, how do you respond when the media, customers, investors and even your employees demand answers?
The sooner the company speaks publicly the better. Today, smartphones, tablets, and computers let information (both correct and otherwise) flow swiftly. Hunkering down and hoping a crisis will blow over is never a good idea.
Companies that wait too long to respond will find that the news media and the online community will seek other sources for information. The end result could be that you waste valuable time trying to set the record straight. Offer complete transparency and honesty in all communications in the aftermath of a crisis. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you can spin the facts. Honesty is essential for rebuilding the trust of customers, employees and other stakeholders.
You or your company’s spokespeople should speak confidently about the company’s future, assuring all stakeholders that while the problem occurred, the business is working diligently to assure things will be fixed and measures will be taken so the situation will not arise again.
Selecting the right person to speak to media and other interested parties during a crisis is crucial. For the most serious situations, customers, employees and investors want to hear from the chief executive. The CEO is typically the public face of the company and the person who carries the most credibility and authority.
Related: 8 Ways to Stay Calm During a Crisis
But if the CEO does not have the skills or desire to speak to the media, other company officials can be trained and mentored to become effective spokespeople. To ensure a consistent message, a company should identify and train a designated spokesperson before any crisis ensues. This training should include mock press conferences so that these individuals (even if they're top executives) become comfortable speaking publicly and answering media questions.
The designated spokesperson should be knowledgeable about the company, what it does, its goals and what can be shared with the public and what information is proprietary. In addition, every business needs a regularly updated fact sheet with the number of employees, what the company does and other background information.
A well-rounded crisis-communications plan outlines how the spokesperson answers questions during a press conference and the social-media manager and other employees engage on social-media platforms to answer questions and communicate with the community members, employees and others. Some detailed crisis plans include examples of a crisis website's content, social-media posts and Q&A scripts for press interactions.
While it's impossible to prepare a communications plan to addresses every potential crisis, advance planning can provide a guide. In a written crisis-communications plan, a business should have an emergency contact sheet with names and phone numbers for the police, fire and ambulance services, as well as company managers and executives and local media representatives.
Your business deserves a well-thought-out and detailed crisis plan, no matter how small or large it is. When you need expert assistance, however, be sure you choose a reliable media-training or public-relations firm with experience in your specific industry to guide you in the best practices.