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VOL. 41 | NO. 7 | Friday, February 17, 2017

Business crisis is avoidable – if you have a plan

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Natural disasters, bankruptcy, insider trading, bad social media reviews, product recalls and the like are certainly what initially comes to mind when you think of a crisis that could devastate your business.

Then you think to yourself – what is the likelihood that any of those things will really happen to me?

Your answer is likely slim to none. Most business owners don’t stop and ask themselves “Could this happen to me?” And even if they do, the answer is typically – even if they do have this proactive conversation with themselves – the answer is always the same: “No. Surely not. This couldn’t happen to me.”

You might be correct. You might just be lucky that way.

But what if you are wrong? Are you willing to take that gamble? What if you become a statistic like the 59 percent of business decision-makers, according to Burson-Marsteller, who have already experienced a crisis with either their current or previous company?

Sometimes there is nothing you can do to avoid a crisis. But pretending it can never happen can become a crisis in and of itself.

Should a crisis occur, you will likely find yourself in a reactionary state of panic, which is when bad decisions are often made.

Look at crisis communication planning as you would business insurance. It’s there if you need it, but you hope you never have to use it.

How do you begin?

Assemble a crisis management team. This team should be made up of employees from each department. If your business is small, involve everyone. Consider enlisting the help of professional marketing and public relations professionals. They will partner with you to construct the best possible plan, offering objective third-party input.

Put pen to paper. Develop an old-fashioned marketing SWOT analysis, which outlines your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Simply identifying these key components may help you to determine what types of crises (other than natural disaster) your company is most susceptible to encounter.

Understand the company mission statement. Make sure everyone has a clear understanding of the company’s fundamental principles, purpose and operational purpose. Often, those words are some of the first you will issue in a statement to the public.

Build relationships with key stakeholders in your audience. Map out each key audience that could play a crucial role in your company’s ability to successfully navigate a crisis. Strengthen your relationships with those audiences before you need them.

In addition to your social media audience, consider influencers in key groups to decide how you will communicate with your audience during a crisis.

Establish and develop relationships with key individuals in the groups such as media, the legal community and government officials, and stakeholders. You likely will call upon them in times of trouble during your time of need.

Don’t forget your social audience. Followers must be kept in the loop, too.

Appoint a company spokesperson. This person should be empowered to speak with the media without being completely scripted. Once you appoint a spokesperson, enlist the services of public relations professionals for media coaching. It is a best practice in order to put your best face forward in times of crisis or not, but especially in times of crisis.

Prepare generic statements. These are statements that can apply to the types of crises you identify in your SWOT analysis. They can be tweaked as needed, but at least you have a starting point.

Respond quickly. Make sure the spokesperson responds as expeditiously as possible. Not responding quickly only leaves the public and media to draw their own conclusions as to why you are not talking. Apologize quickly and directly when it is applicable, and above all else, tell the truth.

Lori Turner-Wilson, CEO and founder of RedRover Sales & Marketing Strategy, can be reached at redrovercompany.com.

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