4 Steps for Crisis Management Planning

By Christina Siebold, Partner

Several years ago, a friend’s house was vandalized while she was at work. Watching her deal with the aftermath and live with the fear of it happening again inspired me to install a home security system. When the company representative showed up at my house to sign papers and begin installation, he asked when my house had been robbed. I replied that it had never been robbed. He looked at me in stunned silence. Shaking his head, he said, “In all my years working for this company, I’ve never had a new customer who hadn’t just experienced a break-in.”

Isn’t that ironic? Millions of dollars are spent in promoting security systems, yet the vast majority of us wait until we’ve experienced a break-in before preparing for it. Don’t we all have the tendency to react to a crisis instead of planning for it in advance?

If you are a business owner or manager, you know instinctively that your company will face a crisis of some kind in the future. Whether from internal forces like a disgruntled employee or product failure, or external forces like competitor attacks or harmful government regulations – it is so important to develop a crisis communications plan before the crisis hits.

The goal of your company’s crisis communications plan should be to minimize damage to your brand and allow your company to emerge from a crisis ready move forward. But you can begin implementing strategies to accomplish this goal far in advance of any crisis.

Here are four strategies you can begin today that will help your organization address a future crisis from a position of strength:

1. Be proactive with your community outreach
Do you know your local and regional business reporters? What about your city, county and state representatives? Building and maintaining relationships with these key influencers is not only good business sense – it’s critical when a crisis hits. You never want a reporter or a legislator to hear your name for the first time when something goes wrong.

2. Identify potential threats to the organization
While every potential negative outcome cannot be fully vetted, the process of thinking through the threats to your organization is invaluable. Approach it like the traditional SWOT analysis, and bring other organizational leaders into the conversation. We all have blind spots, and pulling in diverse voices will help mitigate those.

3. Develop a strategy to address each high potential-threat
Addressing a crisis requires both operational and communications responses. Could an internal policy change mean a lower risk for your company? Are compliance documents and safety trainings up to date? Start taking these corrective steps now. In order for a communications plan to be successful, your spokesperson must be able to discuss the company’s internal operational response as well as respond to their public stakeholders during a crisis. So be sure to address both in the development of your plan.

4. Practice annually (at the least!)
Nobody likes to think about a sudden tragedy, which is why we often avoid crisis planning. But once you have developed a strategy for your organization, it is critical to practice each player’s role and responsibilities. Some organizations have full-scale practice drills to ensure their team can respond to a given scenario. You can also hold a “table-top” exercise, where each party talks through their performance of duties given a specific scenario. However you choose to practice, it is critical to have support from the top. The organization’s leaders should be present and fully engaged as a sign of the company’s commitment to the process.

Implementing these strategies now will position you to better address a future crisis. Next week, we’ll look at a few tactics to include in your planning that will help your team once the inevitable challenge hits your organization.