Having a crisis communication plan is essential for the long-term health of your business. A very brief definition for a crisis is anything that threatens the reputation of your business. As the saying goes; "it’s not of matter of if, it’s a matter of when" you’ll have a crisis to deal with says Steve Richardson of the Brighton Agency.
The purpose of this blog is help those without a plan to see the importance of having one. Those that plan and practice their plan can mitigate certain risks and shorten the time it takes to get back on track. It is the best way to protect your company, employees and stakeholders when a crisis or disaster strikes. You develop several plans for your operation, financial, marketing, emergency action plan, succession, etc., however many overlook a crisis communication plan.
The key to a crisis is how you react and respond. There’s no time to develop a plan once a crisis happens. Your response needs to be nearly immediate. If you don’t get out ahead on communications, you open the door for others to do it for you.
To gain perspective, think in terms of the questions the news media would ask. "What happened?" "Who was injured?" "What is the estimated loss?" "What caused the incident?" "What are you going to do to prevent it from happening again?" "Who is responsible?" If you're not confident how you'd respond to these types of questions, don't try to wing it.
Agriculture has many hazards, a significant employee injury or a fatality will make news, especially if it involves the public. Determine what your business’s key threats are. A crisis communication plan will never be complete and it doesn’t have to be perfect. Start with a crude plan and continue refining it over time. Even a plan that is 10-20-30% complete is better than being 0% prepared.
Develop your plan while thinking clearly and have time to address what you and your team feel would be the best course of action for each situation. It’s hard to think clearly when emotions run high and you don’t know the who, what, where, when, why and how of the situation.
Here are some recommendations from The Brighton Agency:
Know your audience – identify all the audiences that need to hear from you.
Chain of Command - be sure to outline who is on the crisis team, identify who can talk to the media, which staff people will be interacting with which audiences.
Be Channel Specific – who communicates with press, social media, email, press releases etc.
Prepare – prepare as much information as possible in advance. Draft some key messages and have them ready to go because timeliness is key.
7 Things to Remember When a Crisis Hits
1. Have the facts – be sure you really understand the situation. Move quickly and accurately. Never speculate or address hypothetical questions. Stick only to what you know to be true.
2. Use a Crisis Plan – every crisis is different, but use the plan as the foundation to start executing.
3. Do Not Wait – don’t wait till you have fully formed messages, if you don’t act quickly and stay in front of your audience you run the risk of being put on the defensive.
4. Open & Honest – be an open and honest communicator – people need to see that you are owning up to the situation and are more likely to stay with you.
5. Communicate a Solution – don’t be afraid to publicly apologize and declare a change in procedures or policy. Customers want to see a solution or a plan in place to prevent the crisis from happening again. Pay particular attention to "how" you say something, choose your words carefully.
6. Show Empathy – Express sincerity and empathy in your responses, you’ll have a more open ear.
7. Train Your Spokespeople – have them "practice" and train in difficult situations. Responding effectively in difficult situations is an art form and is better with practice. Stakes are very high, so it’s important you do it well.
Having a Crisis Communication Plan is like buying insurance for your company. It is something you have in place and hope you'll never need. However, when that time comes, your reputation and brand will be at stake. A crisis plan in place will help guide you to respond quickly, accurately and appropriately. Revisit and revise your plan quarterly and practice it.
You can find help through professional communications agencies or there are many templates available to help you draft your crisis communications plan. Find one that fits your needs and develop it so you can better handle a crisis, should one pop up on your watch.