5 questions to help you manage a crisis

Nobody wants to be involved in a crisis, right?

Some people might go through their entire professional lives without a data leak, product recall, office fire, flood, malicious activity or an employee video hitting the news for all the wrong reasons.

You’re insured for various forms of damage, accidents and injuries.  You hope employees won’t leave client data on the bus.  But what would you do if a crisis hits and the media start phoning, emailing or trying to get hold of you through social media?  Are you ready for that?

I have experience of handling a range of crisis situations (there’s more about this on my crisis communications page) and would always recommend getting your planning in place early.  However, crisis situations wait for no-one – so while you’re getting your full planning in place, have a think about these five questions which are all distilled from my experience…

Question 1: What is the objective assessment of the situation?

Crises, by their very nature, are all consuming, high-pressure and often emotional situations.

And it’s way too easy to get swept along in the current.

By taking a step back, looking at the situation from the outside and without any of your personal attachments/baggage, you’ll gain valuable perspective which will guide your response.

This stage will also help you work out if you’re facing an immediate crisis (defined by range, depth, brand impact etc), an inconvenience or a problem which, if handled wrong, will become a crisis.

Question 2: What is the expected duration of the crisis?

Once you’ve got your objective view point, you’ll be able to gauge how long the crisis might last. Your objective assessment should have identified the cause of the crisis, the depths to which it penetrates your organisation and the some of the most appropriate steps to take to head it off.

Depending of the expected duration of the crisis, you’ll know whether you need to draft in extra resources to help you cope.

NOTE – NEVER, ever, hope that it will ‘just go away’. It won’t.

Question 3: What is the best, worst and most likely outcome for the crisis?

Run a quick mapping exercise to plot these three outcomes.

Knowing the best outcome will help you design communications to steer the crisis in that direction. (See the above note about hoping it will go away however…)

Identifying the worst outcome (as far as you’re able. Be as bleak, but as realistic, as you can in this phase) will get you mentally prepared for the fight, and identify what strategic measures you need to put in place to roadblock the crisis should it escalate.

The most likely outcome is perhaps the most important part of the equation, and the planning here should focus on supplying no more or no less time/resource to the crisis than you would any other communication. This will identify a point between the best and worst outcomes, focussing attention on the time and resources needed to divert “most likely” away from “worst” and towards “best”.

Question 4: Who can be called on to damage-limit or mitigate the problem?

You’re not alone.

And if you do feel alone in a crisis, get in contact with me. If I can help, I will.

As the PR/Communications representative for your brand, you have a legion of managers, board members, Executive Directors etc to call on to provide timely, accurate comment.

Fielding the right individual to answer media comments, provide statements of intent or skillfully listening to the flack can expedite the passage of a crisis by providing a clearly recognisable face with the appropriate level of brand/organisational clout for the level of crisis that you’re facing.

You will need to brief them, make sure that they are prepared for a wide range of questions and able to conduct themselves accordingly.

You will also need to be clear with your company and the media that you are the one to organise all media opportunities.  You need to know who has spoken to whom, when and what they said – this will allow you to control the flow of messaging and make sure that only one story is being told.

Depending on your brand, you may also be able to call in other people, organisations or agencies to help.  Look for partnerships which already exist, or which could be formed as you move forward.

My main rule at this crisis management stage is to completely avoid “a spokesperson said”. This looks like you’re trying to hide something. Be open, honest and transparent at all times – in the long run this will pay dividends.

Question 5: Are there any opportunities to turn the incident into a positive?

Sometimes, crises lend themselves to reaffirming your core values or the steps that you’ll take to make sure that the situation never arises again.

If an employee has done something stupid and posted it to a social network (licking tortilla shells, for example), you may be able to use the experience to reassure customers that you do, in fact, offer rigorous food preparation training, but that you acknowledge something went wrong here. You can then (with the help of your appropriate spokesperson) lay out the steps you’ll take to make sure that this doesn’t happen again, reaffirming your core value of customer satisfaction etc.

Be warned though – not all crises can be dealt with in this way and you need to tread really carefully to avoid accusations that you’re spinning the situation.  However, at the right time and in the right channel, this could illustrate your willingness to own up to mistakes, to listen to feedback and make changes as needed.

Conclusion?

Saying – but more importantly DOING – the right thing at the right time is key to managing a crisis. Get it right, and you could deepen your connection with your customers for the long term, and perhaps win more business through positive word of mouth.

Get it wrong – and it could be a real threat to your future growth.

If you’d like to talk about preparing your company for a crisis, have a look at what I can offer.  I’d be delighted to discuss your needs and help you to prepare your company in case the worst should happen.  Think of it like insurance.  You don’t need it until you do – and then, gosh, are you glad you’ve got it.

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