How To Ensure Your Business Can Survive a Crisis?
How an organisation responds to a crisis can make all the difference to their reputation.
Managed correctly an organisation can come through a crisis with their reputation intact. Managed wrongly and an organisation can find their reputation in tatters.
Many organisations have faced their own times of crisis over the years. Take the Tylenol murders that began in Chicago in the 1980s. Faced with a PR nightmare after the tampering scandal, Johnson & Johnson received praise following the crisis due to their quick response and action to warn the public and reduce deaths.
This case is often referred to as an example of just how to handle your PR response during a crisis. Furthermore the crisis led to reforms of over the counter medicine and the introduction of tamper proof packaging.
On the other end of the spectrum, who can forget the former BP Chief Executive, Tony Hayward, who will be remembered for telling the media that ‘there’s no one who wants this thing over more than I do, I’d like my life back’ when responding to questions following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion which killed eleven people and caused a widespread disaster following the oil leak.
In 2010 I was part of an emergency response team dealing with our own crisis. Flooding had hit parts of the city that I lived in. At that time I worked as a senior officer in a local government press office, and I immediately became part of the team responsible for communicating vital information to the public.
The team I was part of included officers from a number of organisations within the city including the emergency services and other local authorities. It was something we were prepared for. Over the years before we had worked together on a number of different emergency scenarios that could hit the city; we knew how the team would be formed; what role everyone would take; and what our responses would be to different scenarios.
The biggest piece of advice that I can offer any organisation is to plan. Plan for when things go wrong. Yes we all hope that they won’t, but if they do you will be glad you did some planning and you’ll be pleased that everyone knows exactly what their role is and you’ve worked out how you are going to handle your responses to the crisis.
Put together an emergency response key communications plan with all the vital information on such as: emergency contact list; where the key emergency planning room will be; key journalist contact details and deadlines; who the lead organisation will be (if there is more than one); and most importantly who the key spokesperson/people will be.
Of equal or more importance, practice!! Have training days where you improvise a crisis and you put into action your emergency response plan. How else will you learn what you have right and what needs more work?
Here are a few of my other top tips on how to manage a crisis in your organisation:
1) Act with empathy at all times. Who is affected by a crisis will depend on the actual crisis. Sometimes it will be members of the public; it may involve injury or loss of life; it may involve animals; it may be our environment that is at risk. There are endless possible consequences of a crisis, however, how you act following a crisis shouldn’t have endless difference scenarios. The one thing that you should always do in a crisis is be human and act with empathy at all times.
2) Apologise. If you’re at fault, then apologise. Not half-heartedly, apologise with real compassion. People want to know that you understand their pain and that you are sorry. Really sorry.
3) Never lie. Of course you should always arm yourself with as much information as you can before making any statement of media response. But if you don’t have it all, then be honest, never lie about anything as you will be found out and that will surely be much worse then admitting you need more time. There’s a fine line to tread between making sure a statement or media response is issued as soon as possible, but also making sure you give yourself enough time to gather all the facts you need. Don’t rush out a media response before you’ve done your research, gathered the facts and feel in a position to respond to further questions that you may be asked in an interview.
4) Talk in words not statistics. No one wants an organisation to spout out stats about how safe the company normally is, or how this is the only disaster in ten years. People don’t want to hear this, they may be hurting, and they want to know that you understand how they feel. Remember Sharon Shoesmith during the horrific case of Baby P in the UK? In one of her early interviews she read out some statistics on how well the department normally functioned. Not cool.
5) Have one key spokesperson. This should be the Chief Executive/MD of the organisation. If the crisis is serious, the response should be from the most senior person within the organisation. And it shouldn’t change. Every response should be from that person. Every media interview should be with that person. Every press conference should be held by that person. Think Nick Varney from Alton Towers. A crisis is a serious issue. It demands a serious response. Which leads me onto my next point…
6) Ensure they are media trained. Don’t wait until the crisis hits and then scrabble around for someone senior who has been media trained. And don’t even think of putting someone up for an interview in a crisis who hasn’t been media trained. Any organisation should media train their top team of people anyway, but if you ever needed a reason to be thinking about doing this now, then think of the crisis that could be just around the corner. Do it. And do it now.
There are many other top tips that I could offer for how to handle your PR response in a crisis. If you want more information or help with your crisis planning, then please do get in touch.
Of course prevention is always better than cure, but if you do find yourself facing your very own crisis then the earlier you get in touch with someone to help, the better.