During the course of the past few weeks we’ve heard and viewed a lot of information about hurricanes. As a born and bred Midwesterner who lived in the south several years ago, when hurricanes and tropical storms devastated homes, I was intrigued by the amount of time there was to plan and prepare (days to weeks) for the pending ravaging storms. In the Midwest we literally have minutes – at the most – to secure ourselves and our families and/or possessions if a tornado arises.
Business crisis issues are usually much more like tornadoes vs. hurricanes in which an issue arises quickly: most companies are not prepared and much of the time is about trying to minimize the potential damage.
At Chartwell we provide clients with additional expert eyes and ears to help them identify potential problems before they arise. We also provide insight and assistance should unidentified challenges come about that need attention.
However, in crisis situations we’re often called in after the initial issue has happened and much of our time is focused on the communications and outreach to the appropriate audiences. We recognize that once a company is in the midst of a crisis, their focus may be to try to “fix” it – and if they can easily do that, they should – rather than communicate about the situation and provide updates on what is being done.
Chartwell has worked with hundreds of crisis issues during the course of its 15 years and have found that the communications challenges are the same no matter if it is an embezzlement issue, tragic accident or a human resources concern.
Key audiences must be communicated with and on an ongoing basis. Because if you don’t communicate with them, others will (think: social media) and will develop a narrative or message that is unequivocally incorrect.
Senior leadership in crisis situations often, falsely, believe that saying nothing will “allow the story to die and go away” and that’s simply not true. In fact, if details are not shared, the company might as well plant a big “WE’RE GUILTY” on their foreheads.
As the new year looms, and new budgets and strategic goals are set, companies should make it a priority to firmly plant crisis and reputation management plans within the top 10 initiatives to develop.
And, it’s not that hard, but it does take time. Start with these few activities:
Develop a crisis communications team.
Identify and include spokespersons, human resources, technology and operations. Determine who will be the point person within each division.
Anticipate any possible crisis that could arise.
The thought process “that could never happen to us” may make a company feel secure, but I’m sure all companies in crisis mode have thought this to themselves as well. We encourage clients to develop a laundry list of potential catastrophes.
Create a crisis communications manual.
Identify who takes the lead based on any crisis, how and who will communicate with key audiences (including internal), and which mediums are best for each communication (e.g. social media, internal memos, press releases, news conferences, investor letters).
Develop a “dark site” web page.
Copy the look and feel of your site but focus on outlining content needed in a crisis situation. This dark site is saved as a draft and content is developed if a crisis arises. It goes “live” to external audiences as soon as possible following the initial crisis.
Don’t be afraid to pull in experts. At Chartwell, we are well-versed in quickly getting up to speed on issues and crisis and can provide that external, objective perspective often needed by companies in the midst of their own tornado.