For years, family and friends exalted "The Walking Dead
." They invited me to Walker parties and asked my opinion on planning for a zombie attack. Everyone I knew loved zombies.
Now, thanks to Netflix and my DVR, I’m inviting others into the fold. It isn’t about the zombies—it’s about the people and how they respond to sharing
their world with the undead.
In business, like life, it isn’t a matter of if something will go wrong, but when. Not every incident is a crisis, but when it is, you
must be prepared to handle it quickly.
Here are crisis communications lessons that “The Walking Dead” teaches:
Whether they sketch a plan in the dirt or revise the Alexandria blueprints, Rick and his band always have a strategy to get the group to safety. Even
during moments of calm, they prepare for crises.
You should plan for problematic situations for your business and those that could be catastrophic. You can’t plan for every incident, but you can make good
guesses. A plan lets you communicate better in an emergency.
A few simple steps before the crisis make all the difference:
· Cultivate relationships with partners in the community.
Build rapport with reporters.
Train your team to work with reporters.
Sharpen your spokespeople.
Practice for a crisis.
2. Set goals.
Since the start, “The Walking Dead’s” core group worked to survive. Along the way, they incorporated smaller goals—finding shelter and food, getting to
safety, raising crops and building walls.
In a crisis, all plan steps should bolster your organization’s values. It’s imperative when all eyes are on you that you remain loyal to your
organization’s mission and protect your brand.
These should be the foundation of your goals:
Make good decisions.
Be on the same page internally & externally.
Be responsive and cooperative.
Mitigate negative publicity.
3. Build a team.
“The Walking Dead’s” human family gradually jelled, picking up a new face here and there, losing others. Helpful humans in survival crisis display many
skills—hand-to-hand combat, tracking, strategic thinking and team playing.
Don’t minimize team playing. It is the difference between Daryl and Merle. Which one is still alive in season 6?
The crisis team creates and executes emergency communications. You have an advantage over zombie killers. Your team members were vetted before any crisis
arose. They know your business. They have a vested interest in protecting your brand.
Persons who should be on your team include:
Head of communications
Insurance and risk management rep
Human resources rep
Managers of key departments
- Investor relations rep (if the crisis creates a financial risk)
4. Choose a leader.
Morgan and Glenn each saved Rick long before Rick saved anyone; yet, as soon as Rick made it to the rooftop, he became self-appointed leader.
His law-enforcement past probably kept anyone from questioning him, but one wonders when his badge loses its power. He left a trail of human bodies, the
result of flawed logic, poor judgment and indecisiveness. Those aren’t signs of a good leader.
Leaders can make mistakes in a crisis, but they must learn from those mistakes. A good leader is consistent, listens to his or her team and doesn’t lose
his or her head (Oh, Hershel!).
It is essential for the crisis team to have a leader and media spokesperson. The leader is often the COO, chief counsel or communications head. He or she
must know the organization well.
The media spokesperson must be comfortable on camera and a strong speaker. He or she should not be the team’s leader. Instead, a senior leader
should be the day-to-day face of the company. This person should know the company, the crisis and its solution.
RELATED: Upgrade your crisis plan before disaster strikes: lessons from the Zika and Ebola outbreaks.
5. Use the right tools for the job.
It takes a powerful blow to the brain to stop the undead from biting, so anything that punctures the skull is a good tool.
Rick’s gang relies on firearms, but the noise attracts zombies and ammunition is scarce. Knives, machetes, bows, hatchets or big sticks are more reliable.
Daryl and Michonne are excellent with a cross bow and a katana. The gang is resourceful and uses whatever’s available, but not having easy-to-use,
accessible tools hurts them.
The tools for a crisis aren’t different from the tools a good marketing and PR team uses regularly.
In a crisis, it is essential to work quickly. Once you notify staff and stakeholders, start communicating with the public. A “dark website” communicates
effectively to the media, customers and the public, and should be in place before a crisis.
Though you shouldn’t have to deal with Walkers anytime soon, this list can get you started in the right direction in preparing for potential crises that
could hurt your brand.
Juli Hale manages media relations and client relationships for Forza Marketing in Cincinnati.