Regardless of business size a good crises response plan can be easy and effective
Remember in High School, how one mistake, one false statement or rumor could ruin one's reputation? Well, the same goes for business, but in the business and entertainment world world how you respond could mean the success or failure of your business and the people you employ.
Quite often, we have seen both our smaller and larger corporate clients shy away from any type of crisis communications plan. They believe it can't happen to them, so therefore they make no efforts. They don't set up proactive communications and public relations processes that could be invaluable in a negative situation. That is a mistake, just as even larger corporations do not put in place proper communications practices that would ensure them a share of voice in a crisis situation. BP's Deep Water Horizon Disaster is perhaps one of the best examples of not having good communications practices in place.
The other scenario includes companies that forget the golden rule in crisis communications, which is: Own Your Mistakes. By not owning your mistakes, and that of leadership, they create a run down the rabbit hole that they can't crawl out of, which creates an even greater domino effect. Harvey Weinstein's and The Weinstein Company represent a great recent example of that.
In today's world of social media, an avoidance approach to communications and crisis preparedness is not only foolish but can be detrimental to your business. When planned and executed properly, a crisis communications and rapid response plan can positively impact all businesses, regardless of size, providing for: reputation management, stakeholder/shareholder value and consumer engagement. The "Court of Public Opinion" can be devastating to any business.
There are simple steps any company can take, both big and small, to better prepare for a crisis situation. It is important to note that regardless of size, in order for a crisis communications and rapid response plan to be effective, you must first establish credibility within your market, before your target consumers - all of which is best developed through a proactive and consistent communications program.
One should establish relations with key reporters, both local and national, that regularly cover your industry. Another key component to success, can be an influencer communications program that establishes trust with key centers of influence (COI) at a grassroots level (not at a paid marketing level). This will allow you to mobilize credible community voices when and if needed. This provides your business with third party credibility. Developing that trust and reputation is a simple process. Albeit it seems like a daunting task, it is not. In addition, having these consistent communications practices in place can exponentially increase revenue and makes responding to a crisis far less costly.
Today's consumer is much more reliant and responsive to the responsible actions and communications of companies. At the speed in which communications fly, being consistent and present has never been as imperative as it is today. Negative perception of your business, can be very challenging for corporate public affairs and communications teams, driving them to more "personal", out-of-the-box thinking approaches and making responsible actions a necessity.
The Nielsen, Doing Well by Doing Good study, demonstrated that over 55% of consumers are driven to and are willing to pay even more for product from a socially responsible company. Communicating who you are drives greater revenue and growth. The Jim Stengel (former CMO P&G) Study of Business Growth showed that companies that take a responsible approach to business and communications grow 3 times faster than their competitors and are 400 percent more profitable than an investment in the S&P 500.
A business' actions can also make it much easier to handle a crisis, and allows for the mobilization of third party credible voices when needed. As we all know, a good reputation can take years to build. A bad reputation can happen overnight, making it that much more important to establish consistency in communications way before being faced with any crisis. If you are called to do so, here are the additional steps you can take to ensure a seamless response - allowing you to roll out your plan as effectively as a well-run assembly line:
Step 1. An approved crisis communications "book" and rapid response strategy should be developed for a variety of "worst case" scenarios your business could face, examples of such scenarios in the financial or insurance industries could be:
Loss of licensing within a specific state or country
Accusations of illegal transfers (money laundering, money scams "lottery" et al)
Allegations of price gauging on financial products
Rise in premium cost
Newly mandated products and your company's role in working with regulators
Leadership issues (For example Harvey Weinstein or Uber's former CEO, Travis Kalanick)
Step 2. For each "worst cast" scenario your business could face, a communications platform must be developed and needs to include messaging, talking points and Q&A. Identify the situation and create communications messaging on how you would respond. Create a talking points and Q&A document that would allow you to educate both internally and external stakeholders. This document is key in training your identified spokespeople. Garner legal approval on your communications platform prior to any "worst case" scenarios happening.
Step 3. Once the platforms are developed a few rapid response spokespersons need to be identified and trained. Rule of crisis communications 101 is never use the CEO if you don't have to. The best persons can be either a senior level corporate communications person or legal counsel. Albeit legal counsels tend to step away from speaking to the press, top companies in crisis communications get ahead of the damage by being proactive and thoughtful in their response. They speak out. Not choosing to speak can be a devastating approach. You must be the one controlling the narrative, and the only way you can is by getting out ahead and speaking. If not, the narrative will be controlled for you by someone else, who then is also controlling the impact on your business.
Step 4. Execute communications training. Many folks believe that they've already been media trained so they will ask just to share the new messaging. Sharing and not training is a common mistake. Training is key to effective rapid response in a crisis situation. Even the most skilled of communicators will blunder if not trained properly and effectively on the issues at hand. A mistake you never want to commit after all of your communications efforts.
Step 5. Establish your Rapid Response (RR) Process and educate your internal stakeholders beforehand. This allows for a seamless transition into RR mode. Your internal stakeholders should include: company leadership, communications and marketing team (or person(s) if you are small), and legal counsel. Other stakeholders in larger corporations will include your public affairs, government relations and at times compliance teams. We like to refer to these folks as the Crisis Communications Committee (CCC). Keeping all identified internal team members informed and trained on your communications platform allows for a quick and effective turn around in responding to your crisis. In addition, when preparing for your "worst case" scenarios, it also has already passed through legal approval so that you can execute without delay. As we all know timing is everything.
As stated earlier, it is imperative to establish consistent communications and media relations so that you are not reaching out to reporters and stakeholders of interest for the first time. Media and social media monitoring of your industry is imperative to building your corporate reputation, establishing media relations and becoming part of the conversation. Media and influencer lists must be created and updated regularly. The identification of your top 3 reporters, bloggers, influencers et al, in each market, should be identified with followed by proactive outreach efforts.
The swiftness and openness in how you respond can change outcomes and impact your business and target audience in a positive or negative way. It will be up to you and your leadership as to how you work to actually build greater trust. Always keep in mind that your communications and how you respond to a crisis situation also impacts your public affairs, government relations and investor relations efforts. It's not just your consumer that you need to think about. Maintaining a responsible and consistent approach can make all of your business and communications efforts go much smoother.
The article was co-authored by Monique Tapie, Managing Director of TriomphantCommunication