Planning for A Crisis Can Save Your Brand. Here's How to Do It.
Most people think it's bad luck to consider the worst possible effect their service, product or business might have on a customer. But truth be told it's always best to plan for any potential crisis your business might experience. Most restaurants and major corporations have a plan and revise it annually, so why shouldn't a small business also plan ahead.
Over the years, looking at some of the worst PR crisis of our time I can tell you one thing: Lack of an immediate response to consumers/customers/ clients can result in an instant decline in referrals and faith in your business, resulting in lagging sales, pink slips and worse. To avoid this, plan for the potential of the future, even if it doesn't happen.
Whether you're a restaurant or food manufacturer that needs to maintain food quality to keep consumers from getting sick, a construction company required to keep workers safe, a bank or company that just executed a promotional PR campaign that went awry, evaluating potential risks and addressing them before any potential crisis can occur can ensure you address situations quickly and limit any damage.
And it goes beyond these examples. How will you deal with bad reviews online? That hits home to everyone and every business, especially now that some states protect the reviewer, not the business.
Some key elements you should include in your business' crisis communications plan are:
Identify All Potential Crisis Scenarios - No doubt that identifying potential risks and crisis can be uncomfortable, but not doing so could endanger your business. List out any and every possibly negative scenario that may result in negative press and perception with clients or customers.
Develop Solutions - For each potential crisis there is a solution whether it's media training to ensure that you feel confident in interviews, scheduling events around weather patterns, or putting into place a plan of "what we'll do if", crisis preparation can provide insights into changes you should make in your campaign, product launch or events before they happen for further prevention.
Show the public and your customers what your company plans to do to keep this from happening again (i.e. new policies, new procedures, more staff - a new supervisor -, new product lines, better communication resources). Whatever makes the most sense to your business and will show customers and the public that you are actively committed to not letting anything bad happen in the future.
Take Responsibility - In these situations a company is always guilty until proven innocent. Remember this is the court of opinion, not a court of law.
Communications Goals - What message will you have pre-crafted to immediately send to customers, clients and possibly press? Who will act as the company spokesperson, who will also be responsible for keeping an open line of communication with customers and the public? It's good to craft several messages to cover a variety of situations. Be prepared is the motto.
Research - Who will conduct research to look into the situation? How will you communicate that - by press release, email?
Failure to Plan - While it's better to plan for crisis beforehand and customize it for the specific situation, the reality is that there may be some things you can't predict or leadership doesn't want to imagine. Therefore there is no plan which can make a crisis situation even worse. This is why you need a plan.
Now, I've simplified these to the basic steps and while it isn't always easy, having a plan and understanding your approach will, indeed, go a long way into saving brand reputation and perception.
The key to planning for any potential crisis situation is to be prepared for anything to happen and be confident in how you will handle it. You may lose some business but you can ultimately save your brand, your business' reputation and even come out better on the other side if you plan well now, because once it happens it's too late to put a plan in place, the delay in communicating to customers could result in lost accounts and you may never be able to recover.