The likelihood that you, your business, or one of your suppliers will face a serious crisis at some stage is something that you should plan for.
Businesses are growing at an exponential rate with staff all over the globe. The number of suppliers businesses are working with is snowballing in a post COVID-19 world; social, political, environmental, and military conflict continue to threaten global stability; and disinformation is soaring, fuelled by the ability of social media to spread stories worldwide regardless of their truthfulness. In this unpredictable business environment, you can see how easy it is for crises to quickly develop.
While a crisis stemming from any of these global factors may seem unlikely to affect your organisation, the premise of dealing with an unexpected incident stays the same, whatever form the crisis takes.
In this blog, I am going to briefly explore the steps and guidance that businesses can proactively follow to best prepare to manage a crisis should one arise. It will be much harder to contain a crisis if you’re trying to put these measures in place retrospectively.
It may seem as if a crisis cannot be planned for – by its nature a crisis is something that is sudden and unexpected. On the contrary, it’s imperative for organisations to recognise that even ‘known events’, which can be anything from a press release announcing new board members, an internal employee communication, or a thought leadership article, can easily turn into a crisis in today’s media environment.
Therefore, incident planning, through adopting a “what if” mindset, should be considered for every communication that an organisation makes. As the old adage goes, “Fail to prepare, prepare to fail.”
What constitutes a crisis?
A crisis is a critical event, occurrence, and/or perception that:
- Compromises employee health and safety.
- Impacts your organisation’s ability to operate and serve customers.
- Compromises your brand/reputation.
- Dramatically impacts profitability/revenue, especially if you are a public or listed company.
- Compromises or is deemed capable of compromising your customers’ safety – whether physical or digital.
Who should deal with a crisis?
Organisations should assign a Triage Team, and an Executive Incident Management Team.
The Triage Team will determine the scope of the issue, the threat level to your organisation and who should be notified. This could be anyone from a salesperson, marketing, PR professionals (both internally and externally) or managers. Additional team members may be included, as appropriate, depending on the nature of the issue.
The Executive Incident Management Team will determine whether, in some instances, this needs to be communicated to the Board of Directors. This includes, but is not limited to, instances of an incident involving a senior member of the team, or a notable incident in which your organisation has been implicated.
The Triage Team will also assess the risk level. During initial fact finding, they must determine if the severity of the issue is “low”, “moderate” or “high.” This may be based on the likelihood of the issue capturing public attention and the potential impact of the issue overall. Ultimately, this will determine your organisation’s response to the issue.
What steps should businesses take in a crisis?
Most crises will stem from incidents that your organisation couldn’t possibly plan for. In the event of this happening, both the Triage Team and Executive Incident Management Team should follow the steps below:
- Fact Gathering – Triage Team
- Assess situation severity – both teams
- Incident communication – Triage Team
- External communication strategy – both teams
- External communication execution – both teams
- External communication ongoing management – both teams
How to communicate in a crisis
It is critical that your organisation demonstrates control of a crisis by being the primary source of information for stakeholders. This can be difficult at the beginning of a crisis when factual information may be limited. Regularly communicating with the media during a crisis will position your organisation as the authoritative source of information, rather than a third party.
It’s imperative for those involved to project a sense of calm. Should panic and worry spread to other team members, this could make a crisis even harder to contain, especially when it comes to internal communications, and dealing with any leaks.
All messages deployed, both internally and externally, should follow this formula:
- First, express proper emotion to the situation
- Second, say what you know
- Third, say what you don’t know
- Fourth, express what you are doing about it
- Finally, commit to future updates
- And finally, never say “no comment”
Ultimately, crises are always a possibility. In today’s interconnected world where a single bad story or wrong step can be consequential for months and years to come, organisations must speculate to accumulate and take a proactive approach towards their crisis communications strategies. C8 has dealt with many crises on behalf of our clients, and we are here to help if you need our expert guidance and support. For further information please email firstname.lastname@example.org.