If you pay any attention to the news these days, it seems like crises are lurking around every corner. One month, there’s news of millions of people’s private data getting into the hands of hackers and thieves. The next, some government official or another has used the public’s money for reasons that have nothing to do with his or her job.
While your company might not have to face crises of this magnitude, in all probability, it will have its own problems to deal with at some point in time. How a company responds to a crisis, particularly in the eye of the public, can make or break it going forward.
If you try to brush things aside or sweep problems under the rug, you will earn the ire and disrespect of your customers. In some cases, poor handling of a crisis can be seen as a violation of the law, landing your company in even hotter water.
Having an action plan in place will allow you to respond to crises if and when they occur, or even avoid them in the first place. Follow these steps to quickly navigate a crisis situation and emerge from it in one piece.
1. Make a List of Every Possible Crisis
If you have an idea of the kinds of crises that can happen to your business, you’re better able to make a plan in case one occurs. Take a look at the experience of companies in your industry. For example, wholesalers or retailers can look at credit card breaches experienced by their competitors for an idea of what to expect.
2. Evaluate Your Company’s Readiness
Review how prepared your company is to handle a crisis. Do you have a plan, and if so, when was the last time anyone took a look at it? Do you have a list of key people to contact in case the worst happens?
3. Make One Person the “Point Person”
It’s a good idea to assign one person, preferably someone on your communications team, the role of spokesperson or point person. He or she should be trained to handle the demands of speaking to the press without casting the company in a bad light.
4. Prep Members of Your Team
Although you want to have one person be the official spokesperson for your company, it’s still important that everyone else on your team who might be interviewed by the press have some preparation and training. Such training can provide valuable tips on how to talk to the media, and even how to stand and position themselves when being interviewed.
5. Be Proactive About Your Company’s Image
One way to soften the blow of a crisis is to work on building your company’s image and reputation. For example, you can heavily promote any charitable work completed by members of your team or by the business’s leaders.
You can also try to place positive profiles of your executive team in newspapers, magazines or online. Maintaining a positive social media presence and responding to people’s concerns or comments in a timely way can also help to bolster your company’s reputation.
6. Hold Crisis Response Drills
Just as your workplace holds regular fire drills, it’s a good idea to hold crisis response drills on a somewhat regular basis. The drills will give your team a chance to practice what they have learned and will help you see where there is room for improvement.
7. Respond Quickly if a Crisis Does Occur
In the unfortunate event of a crisis, you need to act quickly. Getting in front of the press and media before they have a chance to define the story gives your company an opportunity to smooth things over and present itself in the best possible way.
8. Don’t Cover Things Up
It can be a natural response to want to bury a crisis, but that never works out well. Companies that ignore major problems, whether they are public relations gaffes or security holes that affect millions of people, usually make more work for themselves when it comes to regaining the public’s trust.
Be transparent about what happened, and perhaps most importantly, own up to it. Don’t point fingers or place blame on others. An unfortunate situation occurred at or involving your company: it’s time to let the public know what you plan to do about it.
9. Review and Assess
After a crisis, it’s important to take a step back and evaluate what happened. How did your company respond and how did people respond to your response? Was there a noticeable drop in business or a rise in negative sentiment? Or did people seem to accept what happened and move on?
Although you don’t want to end up in a sticky situation in the first place, you can look at it as a learning experience for your company. Assess your response and the outcome and consider what you can do differently going forward.