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  • Jennifer Fortney

Planning for A Crisis Can Save Your Business

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

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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.

Think about it: Mattel's debacle with toys from China, China's (seemingly) never ending exportation of bad and unhealthy, even poisonous, products, the variety of political scandals, the Equifax and Target hackings, even Britney Spears needs some expert help every now and again. And it goes beyond these examples. How will you deal with bad reviews online? That hits home to everyone.

Some key elements you should include in your business' crisis communications plan are:

- Identify the Potential Crisis - No one wants to think about the worst case scenarios, but doing just this can truly save your business. Knowing what could happen allows you to plan ahead, just in case.

- 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. Get ahead of the story. The faster you address the issue, the easier it will be to manage your reputation. Customers want you to take immediate action in resolving the situation and media need you to be transparent and available.

- 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, even if it's only hypothetical right now? How will you communicate that - by press release, email, news conference. To address the situation and remain credible, you must flush out all of the details and fully understand the gravity of the crisis you're facing, or may face in the future.

- A Solution - If you know you can keep a crisis from occurring, implement those solutions now. Don't wait until you are in big trouble. You can't always determine a solution beforehand, but it's always good to think about. If it's unexpected, than you and your team need to think fast and customize a solution based on the situation and the facts around it. 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 the situation, and will show customers and the public that you are actively committed to not letting anything bad happen in the future.

Now, I've simplified these to the basic steps but it isn't always easy, so having a plan and understanding your approach will, indeed, go a long way.

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.

If you're not sure where to start, it's worth it to hire a public relations agency that can easily assist in putting together a crisis communications plan, and help you through the crisis. Your PR agency will help you keep a cool head and focused mind to save your business and its reputation.

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