Smart phones and social media. Those two things are why every business should have a crisis plan in place. Why? In addition to media exposure, smart phones and social have empowered today’s “citizen journalists,” and the internet can spread a story in seconds. What’s worse, truth doesn’t always seem to matter if the story is interesting and the video compelling.
It’s easy to see why a large airliner, construction company or food distribution company has much more risk and the need for a crisis – or reputation management – plan. But if you are providing any kind of public service, thinking through what might happen and what you’re going to do is a wise decision. You might feel a little like Chicken Little – and sometimes the boss doesn’t want to hear about what might go wrong – but it’s always better to be prepared.
What questions should you ask during this process?
1) What is the worst that could happen? This exercise will help you understand your weak spots, spell out why you need to be better prepared, and erase the element of surprise when something does go wrong.
2) When something happens, who should I call? My recommendation is to always have legal and public relations representation on speed dial. That way, when something happens, instead of wasting time thinking through who to call, you know exactly who to call. Also, if the incident spirals than you will have help for both the courtroom jury and the jury of public perception.
3) Why should I invest in PR and social media? Practitioners will tell you that both social media and PR take time and effort – neither can expect overnight results. When a company calls me out of the blue because they’ve had a crisis event, it’s much harder to get traction if we’re starting with nothing in place. Reputations are made over time, and if you aren’t building good will and engaging with reporters and customers, you leave yourself completely bare.
4) Do I need legal advice? A lawyer can assess your risk and advise what you need to put in place to show “due diligence.” For example, if you provide an entertainment venue for minors – arcade games, put-put golf, bumper cars – it would be important to make sure that all employees are background checked to ensure you aren’t exposing children to a predator. And if an accusation does come up, you can prove that you have a robust process in place.
5) How might incidents escalate? Not all do, but there is a huge possibility that once the thread frays, it easily unravels. For example, if an employee claims sexual harassment, many times other employees are emboldened to step forward with similar claims. Now there is a pattern – a story much harder to fight.
Companies that are ill-prepared are always surprisingly shocked when a crisis event occurs. But crises are nearly always predictable – maybe not exact circumstances, but you can hit pretty close to the general topic: contamination, injury or fatality, employee theft, sexual harassment. The list is similar from company to company, depending on the industry. And when you can predict something might happen, you can plan for it as well. And in the end, as unappreciated as Chicken Little was – he was right.