Is it possible to completely prepare for the unknown? By definition, no. But with strong preparation we can get pretty close.
Many organizations plan and prepare for crises—of both the known and unknown variety—and there is no better time than the turn of the calendar to a new year to dust off the manuals, plans and documents you’ve had on the shelf for some time.
Here are some tips to get you started on refreshing your crisis planning:
1. Crisis plans are never finished. When you open an old crisis plan, you might be shocked to see how out of date it is. For example, I’ve worked with a number of large events and event planners who could never have fathomed that a global pandemic would force a scramble to online programming—or that misinformation would impact not just political campaigns, but all companies and individuals, who must now consider how and when to engage falsehoods that impact their reputations. As communications pros, we must constantly reevaluate crisis plans to fit the world we live in today.
2. Your employees are your best resource. While some crisis situations can truly occur out of the blue, we know that many times a crisis emerges from situations that have festered, lingered and which then bubble up. The best resources are often right there in your own organization. You should work closely with the employees at all levels and from all functions to help identify what keeps them up at night.
3. In a digital world, the past is never forgotten. Just because a news cycle has passed, or a challenging issue has been addressed, doesn’t mean it will stay in the past forever. As new consumers or stakeholders begin to engage with your brand, they might start to raise new issues about an old crisis. You need to be prepared. Using tools like social listening and measurement of online conversations can help you to keep an eye on these past issues to make sure they’re not resurfacing in a way that could be damaging in the future.
4. Preparation goes a long way, but it’s no substitute for timely action. In a crisis, an organization must have a team in place whose members know and trust each other to be able to address emerging threats. Those people must work together as a team, and they must draw on the strengths of the organization. That means relying on staff, from senior to junior, and more particularly letting them know what the situation is, in all its facets.
5. Make sure that your crisis plan aligns with the organization’s values and core principles. You cannot create a crisis plan in a vacuum. Your organization’s beliefs should be embedded in everything you do, so that people know what you stand for and trust that you will act in ways that affirm your values. Actions are what makes an organization’s culture, not corporate vision statements or mottos.
6. Internal trust is necessary to confront a crisis, so an organization must have already created a sense of stability and mutual respect among team members. That includes financial stability. The first thing that employees often think about when a crisis hits is whether they need to find a new source of employment and financial stability. Creating that environment during the good times will create a level of internal trust that can be called upon in a crisis.
All of this proves the value of strong relationships, both internal and external. Relationships are key, whether with customers, shareholders, regulators, reporters or other interest groups. But building relationships takes effort, time and great care, meaning that you must have done the work of building good relationships before the crisis hits.
Think about your last crisis: Who did you need to call on unexpectedly? The answer can give you insight on where you should go now to update a relationship and make sure that the lines of communications are still open.
Confronting a crisis in the days of social and other non-traditional media takes planning and forethought. Customers have high expectations that the brands they align with will reflect, during a crisis, the values that they espouse throughout the year. Making sure you have the right internal communications channels in place to enable a responsive work environment is a key to successful crisis management.
Mitchell Schwenz is a senior vice president with Precision Strategies.