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  • Cascade Communications

Preparing for a Crisis Can Save Your Business

We’ve all seen how the news media react to toy and food recalls, even local restaurants with, uhm, pest problems. The truth is that every business, regardless of your size, should be prepared for the “worst case scenario”. It can happen anytime, anyplace anywhere and how you manage the situation can determine whether or not your business weathers the storm. Today, I will share two posts on planning and preparing for a crisis.

Take a minute to sit down and list what those worst case scenarios are for your business. If you’re a doctor it

could be a misdiagnosis, dentist patient has an allergic reaction, restaurant - food poisoning, employee theft, toy store - child swallows something, a law suit, and so on. Really the worst is someone’s death due to any ignorance on the part of your company or employees. After defining every single possible scenario, sit down and determine what your crisis communications plan is going to be.

A crisis communications plan is an outline of the steps you and your business are going to take to:

a) Actually put a plan in place! This plan should include statements for media and customers, detail how you will communicate to audiences and sample statements that are custom to any situation that could occur. The idea is that you can whip this out at any time and move and act quickly.

b). Communicate with the public about what happened - remember this one thing, the first 24 hours are the most crucial and the time to get out your message in reply. The longer you wait to communicate to the public the more the story will spin out of control. Get the facts out and make sure that the company’s owner (you) is the only one delivering the message. Think Exxon Valdez. The CEO took more than a week to speak to the media about the tragedy. The sooner you start talking, the less damage done and the better chance you have of repairing your reputation/brand/company image. Plus, the media will be more willing to work with you. Otherwise, speculation will take hold, the story will keep appearing in the news and you will lose the public’s trust, and customers. So, how are you going to respond? Write out messages for every potential scenario and put together tactics to be implemented by each.

C). What you’re going to do to regain the public’s trust - what steps are you going to take to show the public that you are “taking action” to prevent a future situation from occurring. It’s important to map these out in detail and communicate them to the public/media. Make a list for every scenario of what you can do to prevent this from happening again the future; any steps and measures on the part of the company and its employees. Remember you actually have to implement these steps, not just say you are.

d). Train your staff on your company’s crisis protocol - this is two fold because it gives you an opportunity to remind employees the role they play and how one misstep can affect your business, and you lay out the guidelines for what comes out of their mouths about a situation. Really, they shouldn’t be commenting on the situation at all. What you should do is provide them with what to say about the situation if asked by media or even family and friends. What your employees say and how they react is a form of PR whether it’s positive or negative. In a crisis situation you need to be sure to keep a lid on things and control the messages. Plus, your employees feel more vested in the business when you keep them fully in-the-loop.

Now, if you think you don’t need a crisis communications plan, think again. I can only think of maybe two or three industries that don’t need one. A plan helps make you aware of the possible negative impact your business can have on someone’s life, as well as your employees (if your business goes under because you failed to handle a crisis situation appropriately, your employees will be out of work).

Even if you never use it, you can take comfort in knowing that you are thoroughly prepared for any and every situation that may face your business. It's like carrying an umbrella with the threat of rain. My hope is that you never ever have to use it.

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