While many companies have contingency plans that call for back-up generators and alternate production sites, many do not have crisis communications plans in place. Crisis communications includes strategies, plans, tools and an explicit understanding of processes and responsibilities for sharing information with employees, business partners, the general public, local officials and the media.
This is especially true for middle market and smaller businesses. And, some larger corporations would prefer we did not know that they hadn't gotten that deep into their own crisis communications planning as of yet.
If our antennae aren't poised for action after the past year of natural disasters, cyber disasters, and social media mishaps, then it is a wonder as to what will motivate us. Massive mudslides in Columbia, deadly flooding in Peru and Japan, devastating wildfires throughout Italy could not be anticipated, and required immediate response. Organizations of all sizes work day and night to figure out how to prepare for and respond to situations like the WannaCry ransomware attack, Cloudfare's customer data leak, and the U.S. Department of Education's misspelling of famed author, W.E.B. Dubois's name - and subsequently misspelling the word "apologies." These many types of crises can take a terrible human toll, send businesses into complete disarray, and have a calamitous effect on an organization's reputation.
Some basic preparations that your organization can engage in NOW include:
Develop procedures and databases for contacting employees, vendors and customers
Set clear policies about who will represent the company with public agencies and the media
Have clear policies or directional strategies in place for addressing the needs of: displaced employees or communities affected by an incident related to your company's operations, or communities affected by natural or other crises in areas where your business operates
Selecting a PR or Risk Management Firm
There are many public relations consultants and agencies, as well as risk management companies. Some have experience and a positive track record developing and implementing crisis communications strategies, while others have less or none.
Here are some helpful criteria to apply when selecting a crisis communications advisor:
The type of crisis communications services the firm provides
The experience the individuals who would work directly on your business have in developing crisis communications strategies and implementing them
Assessment of strategies the firm has delivered in the past - have they been customized to meet the unique needs of a company and industry, or do they apply a "one-size-fits-all" solution?
Their track record for successfully working with the media on complex issues and subjects
The ability to work strategically on the topics most relevant to your potential incident
The availability and bandwidth to ramp up for your unexpected situation and need
The ability to develop a strong preventive and response plan
Clear communication about the agency's role and how your company and executives would be expected to participate in the communications process during crises
Relationships and Policies Matter Year-Round
Corporate policies, practices and relationships have everything to do with how a company comes through a crisis. While some companies have thoughtful and sound policies about industrial waste, toxic disposal, employee health care, and labor safety, others postpone doing anything about them, thinking that if an incident should arise their insurance companies and lawyers will get them out of a jam.
There are three ways to approach corporate vulnerabilities:
Take one's fiduciary responsibility to shareholders and employees seriously, and anticipate and prepare to mitigate problems and prevent them
Establish clear policies in areas that companies in your sector may encounter, and develop relationships with opinion leaders in related areas that can help with your information, access and credibility if an incident were to occur
Put off addressing any vulnerabilities and hope the corporate reputation can withstand the media frenzy, interest group and community attacks and allegations in the midst of an incident
OK, so Number 3 is not a real option. However, it is all too common and "hope" is not a big help when it is time to mitigate problems.
Incidents that Make Companies Vulnerable
A foreign substance is discovered in your plant
Discrimination claims are filed against your largest supplier
Workers in an overseas factory have a different pay scale than those in the US
A corporate officer has been using company resources for his extracurricular interests
Riots or demonstrations are taking place in a city your company operates in
A building your company owns did not hold up in an earthquake
Your industry is experiencing unusual price hikes
Your products require petroleum or other scarce or price sensitive material to operate
Several employees have come down with a rare illness
Oil is spotted leaking from a ship at sea
Climate change can drastically effect crops or impede transportation routes leading to severe effects on supply lines and the ability to deliver products
Changes in policy, such as the recent several country Muslim travel ban, stronger prosecution of immigration offenders, and weakening guidelines on maternity care can have a direct effect on a company's ability to have a fully operational workforce
Increased political polarization and consumer activism through protests or social media can result in protests or boycotts or pressure on retailers to not stock items
Ivy Cohen Corporate Communications, Inc. helps companies build reputations and differentiate in a competitive market through thought leadership, public education, issues management, content strategy, and strategic communications. To find out how ICCC can help you and your company build your reputation contact firstname.lastname@example.org, call 212-399-0026 or visit www.ivycohen.com.