A crisis plan is a must-have for businesses operating in today’s complex, interconnected environment.
In business, the list of “ifs” is virtually endless. Unforeseen operational issues and market downturns can appear out of nowhere and upend even the most stable company.
Of course, it’s impossible to plan for every negative factor or outcome. But one area every company can—and should prepare for—is a crisis situation.
Whether it’s a viral rumor, disgruntled employee or legal action, companies of all sizes and types are vulnerable to reputational risk. Business leaders cannot afford to simply stick their heads in the sand or take a wait-and-see approach.
Over the past year alone, many high-profile crises have rocked major companies and brought down their leaders. From the resignation of Iceland’s prime minister amid the Panama Papers leak to the Wells Fargo scandal that led to the ouster of CEO John Stumpf—today’s complex, interconnected world means you don’t have a second to lose.
Having a crisis plan in place allows executives to mobilize more quickly and efficiently when the time comes to execute on the plan. And remember, it’s not a matter of if, but when a crisis will occur.
If you’re ready to get serious about crisis and reputation management, read on and follow these top five tips for creating an effective crisis-management plan from JConnelly’s Tom Vogel, who leads the firm’s crisis management practice.
1. Designate the team. The first step in putting together a crisis plan is to identify a core team. It’s best to keep the team lean to prevent roadblocks and ensure sensitive issues remain kept tightly under wraps. Transparency among all members is a must. The team will most likely include the C-Suite (CEO, CFO, CMO), general counsel and head of communications. Make sure to delegate one person to monitor all activity, including media coverage, and report back to the group.
2. Create your crisis map. While every crisis is different, most will involve a similar set of tactics: development of messaging, preparation of a Q&A document, a plan for disclosing to the media, and distribution of a companywide media policy, to name just a few. It’s important to spell out all steps that will take place once it’s time to put your plan into action. This will keep everyone organized and working from the same playbook, saving valuable hours that you can devote to understanding and addressing the actual crisis.
3. Understand stakeholders. Businesses need to communicate with several distinct audiences: employees, shareholders and investors. Take the time to understand each group and what matters most to them. In the end, you’ll want to deliver one consistent message across all stakeholder groups while communicating in a way that most effectively resonates with each unique audience.
4. Think through the scenarios. Although it’s impossible to predict every potential threat, most industries have a handful of likely scenarios—an oil spill (gas company) or food-borne illness (restaurant). Create a list of the six most-likely threats facing your business or industry. Then think through the main elements of a crisis plan—fact sheet, public statement, CEO letter to internal team. It isn’t necessary to create perfectly polished pieces, but it does help to start thinking about messaging and positioning—and you’ll probably come up with situations that haven’t occurred to you before.
5. Identify influencers. You should pay as close attention to choosing the right messenger as you do to creating the message. Identify the top five or 10 journalists who cover your industry and begin building relationships with them. This is not a quick solve. You’ll need to put in real time serving as a resource and cultivating trust that is invaluable in times of crisis.
As John F. Kennedy said, “When written in Chinese, the word ‘crisis’ is composed of two characters. One represents danger and the other represents opportunity.” Businesses that effectively plan for every eventuality will be in a much stronger position to not only move past the immediate crisis but emerge even stronger.