Sexual misconduct, data theft, unfair labor practices, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) complaints, mergers & acquisitions, active shooters, layoffs, accusations, food tampering, employee fraud and product defects are just a few of the situations today’s CEOs face.
It’s been said that an organization’s reputation is its largest uninsured asset — an asset that can be seriously damaged with an ineffective crisis response plan.
Traditional media leap on stories like those listed above. And with the presence today of social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, not to mention a 24/7 media environment, the reputation you’ve built up with years of good work can be shattered in an instant.
Planning is not enough
Often, organizations will dutifully create an operational crisis plan, but lack a concomitant crisis communications strategy. So, what should you do?
The heart of crisis communications planning focuses on preparing for the most significant, gut-wrenching threats — both operational and reputational — that might affect your organization. To identify those threats, a vulnerabilities audit with top management will enable your team to assess the risks the company faces, both in terms of their likelihood and the severity of the consequences they might have on the company’s reputation or operations.
The second part of the plan focuses on how your organization will communicate about those threats.
Having a plan is an excellent first step. But a plan is no good gathering dust on a shelf. Many organizations do crisis/media training to make certain they have trained executives who understand the needs and demands of today’s media, enabling the organization to deliver its messages clearly and with credibility.
The most-prepared organizations do tabletop drills to test the plan and put their staff through the rigors of real-time crisis simulation, thereby improving the chances of responding effectively when the real thing hits.
Companies who want to stay ahead of the curve also keep a sharp ear to the rail with a comprehensive monitoring program that closely watches news content delivery platforms — print, broadcast, web, mobile and social. And many progressive companies have third-party crisis counsel audit their current plan as it evolves, to make certain there are no chinks in the armor.
What’s the payback?
From a reputational perspective, how your company communicates during a crisis will likely be just as important as how the incident is managed operationally. Good planning and training will mean:
■ A more coordinated, consistent and authentic communications response that results in more accurate coverage.
■ Better coordination among crisis team members, less redundancy and reduced stress.
■ Enhanced ability to maintain normal operations while simultaneously managing the crisis event.
■ Reduced damage to the company’s reputation, with the possibility it may even be enhanced.
Your response to a crisis event must be rapid, strategic and authentic. Managing the message is a necessary skill set for executives. When your organization’s reputation is on the line, so is your bottom line. Strategic crisis management and crisis communications planning is your brand’s most effective insurance policy. ●
Bruce Hennes is managing partner at Hennes Communications