Managing A Crisis, Some Thoughts…

A crisis isn’t always an obvious situation. If an earthquake occurs, everyone knows the gravity of the issue. If a company’s services are failing or changing, the issue may creep up on the organization, until suddenly, it’s a crisis.

After organizing your crisis response team, a good next step is to understand how to position the various action items necessary to mitigate loss and exposure. Some examples of categories related to positioning include:

  • Unauthorized procedures
  • Inadequate supervision
  • Inadequate quality control
  • Human error
  • Clerical error
  • Misuse of confidential information
  • Errors of judgement
  • Inadequate standard operating procedures

One step we suggest to our clients involves stepping out of the organization and envisioning the point of view of the public or the individuals affected by the crisis. What if it was your house that was flooded? What if your family was without housing as a result of an earthquake? What if the local fire station was closing?

Before taking a specific step, give thought to the consequences that will relate to the crisis, and how the proper positioning may protect or mitigate those consequences. Examples of consequences include management continuity, operational continuity, financial exposure, public relations nightmare, lawsuits, etc.

And then, once you have put those pieces together, remember this: people tend to remember what they hear first and last.

Rapid communication to address the crisis is the next step. This is such an important process that I often discuss it first, even before the other initial considerations. Doing this right will keep the ship afloat. Missing the mark will see even the rats leaving the ship.

One person should become the primary authorized spokesperson to represent the organization, deliver official statements, and answer questions from the media during the course of the crisis. This individual should have a minimum of two support individuals who can work on responding to media, creating media releases, and acting an an internal and partner liaison to ensure proper open dialog.

KEY POINT: The designated spokesperson should not automatically be the organization’s existing head of PR or communications. You’re dealing with a crisis, so you need to designate the BEST possible communicator to this task.

Once you have your PR team organized, seek out and secure subject matter experts that may be used to fortify your position. As an example, one of our clients was faced with significant layoffs in 2009, and to counter claims of insensitivity, they brought on a hiring firm’s communication manager to discuss the job market, a representative from their insurance firm to discuss continued insurance support for anyone laid off, and a psychologist to address the issue of stress and the company’s provision of emotional support via their HR department for anyone in need. We practiced with these individuals, and videotaped some of them so they could see in advance what they’d look like prior to meeting the media.

Taking this route dilutes the pressure on the CEO/Leader, and allows them to make core issue statements, and then let others address specific issues. It demonstrates leadership and communicates that the CEO/Leader is taking action, not just responsibility. Remember: Taking responsibility is often the prelude to a pink slip. Taking action on top of responsibility may lead to a renewed contract!

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