In the general hierarchy of life’s priority, when you think of crisis, the marketing department is probably not the place to call. But if you’re a business that’s facing a natural disaster, a tampering case involving your products, an on-the-job accident or other damaging event, that call to the marketing department is one of the first and most important. But if they aren’t prepared to handle a communications crisis, it may not help.
Is your company prepared for a scramble drill in communicating effectively to convey the proper information, using the right tone and messaging to quell customer fears, or creditor agitation or anxiety, and deal with intrusive media inquiries? If not, now might be a good time to craft a plan, get it reviewed and vetted by all other departments for accuracy and feasibility and get it put in place – before the crisis occurs.
This plan should include the following:
1) List of personnel involved: Who is the designated spokesman for your company, who comes next if that person is not available? Create the hierarchy so that the job tumbles downhill logically. The person needs to be credible, well-spoken, and to understand the goals and ideals of the company thoroughly so that any statement made to the local or national media is believable and makes sense.
2) Who internally should be contacted: List of people will vary depending upon the nature of the crisis, but at bare minimum, the CEO, CFO, VP Operations, General Manager, VP Marketing, and in-house Counsel should be included on the list. Your plant security company should be informed immediately, and if the crisis involves injury or death of staff or contractors on the site, the local police department, local first responder services if needed, and local utilities that service the site, including Hazmat services if required.
3) What is your position on the incident? Is it an accident, was it intentional sabotage, is your company responsible in any way, what is your plan going forward? From a public relations standpoint, clarity and direct honesty is always the best policy. The media is tremendously resourceful, and they will find out their version of the truth. Better to give them yours and it turns into a non-story, than to stonewall and let them start digging on their own.
4) Provide only the facts you’re sure of. If you don’t know for certain, simply tell the media that you’re investigating and will keep them informed as things develop in that investigation. Make sure in-house counsel or your of-counsel attorney reviews any written statements for accuracy, or anything that legally obligate your company to do anything in future.
5) Position Your Company As Compassionate, Caring, Concerned. No matter how simple or harmless the situation appears, in today’s environment anyone can potentially be construed as a victim of something. Make sure your company is seen as one that cares about all it’s employees and contractors, or an civilians who may have inadvertently been involved in the incident. Spread the net of concern wide, but make no direct promises, express your concern for the well-being of all, and stress that no matter the cause or level of responsibility your company ultimately takes in the final analysis, they will take great pains to assist and care for anyone affected by the incident.
The real trick is to have a speedy, comprehensive and clear position, and to release it to the media as early as possible. If media representatives sense that you’re holding back or hiding something in any way, they will see it as their duty to get to “the truth” as they see it. Fast response heads this reaction off at the pass, returns control to your hands, and makes it appear that you know the drill and are being cooperative.
Each crisis is different, and each calls for a custom-tailored response. But if you have a plan of action, centralized contact information, a chain of command and a prepared spokesman, you can contain most incidents and concentrate on damage control to preserve your company’s reputation and good name.
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