It’s the quiet times that worry me the most — when things are humming along, operations are working fine, teams are collaborating as they should. Just business as normal.
To me, this is the time to think ahead: What happens when the unthinkable happens? Are you ready for that moment?
If your organization is ready with a well-thought-out crisis communications plan, oftentimes you can uncover nightmare scenarios before they grow into full-time horror films and minimize the damage – operationally, financial and reputation-wise.
Collectively, our team has over a century’s worth of experience in managing crises (boy, are we old). Here are 7 questions we ask our clients to determine if they’re prepared for a crisis:
- Have you listed out all the things that keep you up at night? The first step in crisis preparedness is identifying vulnerabilities. Conduct a comprehensive risk assessment to determine areas where your company might be exposed — operations, supply chains and logistics, data security, brand, and legal and regulatory compliance.
- Who’s on the team? When a crisis strikes, there is no time for corporate turf wars or internal politics. Make sure you know who is on the crisis management team and how to reach them in a hurry. Ensure everyone understands their respective roles and responsibilities. It also helps to develop a list of experts and specialists such as interpreters, medical advisors or academic experts who may be necessary to bring on board.
- Does your organization have clear communications protocols? If the organization hasn’t already, the crisis team needs to establish clear procedures for how information will be disseminated both internally and externally. Develop messaging templates that can be quickly adapted to the facts, and make sure you cover all your critical audiences (employees, customers, investors, partners, media, elected officials and regulators). Remember that transparency and honesty are critical.
- Have you practiced? Don’t take the time to develop this crisis plan and then let it collect virtual dust. Leadership should regularly conduct trainings for the crisis management team. These exercises will create muscle memory to enable the crisis team to respond swiftly and effectively when a real crisis occurs.
- Do you know how to spot an emerging crisis? Your organization should set up monitoring systems that can detect issues before they escalate into crises. Closely monitor social media and news outlets, and assess industry trends to identify emerging threats. Understand how to best share that information with the right people on the team. Establishing early warning systems can enable teams to address issues proactively and minimize the damage.
- Do you have the right relationships in place? We tell clients it’s best to make friends before you need them. Does your organization put a priority on building relationships with key stakeholders, including government officials, community and civic leaders, and the media? These connections can be invaluable during a crisis, as your friends may be more willing to assist and provide support to a company they have a positive relationship with.
- Are you try try trying again? Crisis preparedness is an ongoing process. Regularly review and update your crisis management plan to adapt to changing circumstances and emerging risks. What worked in the past may not work in the future, so a dynamic approach is essential.
By asking these simple but important questions and doing what you can to prepare your team for the worst, you can undo a lot of damage before it’s even begun. Better to worry now than when it’s too late.
This article was written by President Natalie Bauer Luce. Natalie is a seasoned communications and public affairs strategist with extensive experience in government, law, media politics and business.