Staying calm in a crisis – six tips for crisis planning

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No organisation is immune from a crisis and with the lightning pace of today’s communications – often driven by social media – the time to react and take control is increasingly short.  That’s why robust, proactive crisis planning is a must.

Despite the changes in the media landscape, the core principles of crisis management remain true. And central to these is having a plan in place.

A good plan will be a document that you want to pick up and use in the event of any crisis. Why? Because during these times, it is often hard to think straight. Crisis planning will guide you – providing a process to help manage the situation and communication across your organisation.

So, what should a crisis management plan cover? Well, this will of course depend on your business and is something that merits much thought and discussion. However, considering some of the following points will help in this process and guide you to dealing with a crisis more effectively.

1. What is a crisis?

Crisis is a much-used word today and can often be open to interpretation – one person’s crisis is another’s inconvenience. In the corporate world, putting business specifics aside, a crisis generally means a situation that:

  • threatens to damage a business’s assets, financial objectives, integrity or reputation;
  • comes under close public scrutiny due to adverse or negative media attention;
  • has the potential to escalate in intensity or run out of control.

You therefore need to list the various potential crises that could impact your business and define these clearly. By doing so you will start your thinking process and form a basis from which to assess and deal with each situation.

2. Build a team – now!

A crisis occurs and you need to react. But who needs to know what and when, and what is the process for managing and communicating this?

Having a clear, structured crisis team defined before any event occurs is essential. With a team in place where everyone knows their exact role, you will help to avoid confusion and enable the business to react quickly and effectively in dealing with the situation.

Remember, it takes time to build any team from scratch, and time is something that is in very short supply when a crisis hits, so make sure you do this in advance.

3. Clarity of communication

Good communications are vital to any crisis planning. They should always be conducted with honesty, truthfulness and a genuine concern for people.

You must define a spokesperson. Having someone who is prepared in advance will set you in good stead should a statement need to be made to the media.

Here training is key. Whether running through possible crisis scenarios internally with colleagues or undertaking professional media training, having the confidence that you can communicate clearly under pressure will help ensure the message you are delivering is heard and trusted.

4. Define your objectives

Setting objectives will allow you to determine what actions are necessary for both managing the crisis and your communications. Plan specifically for these to change over time – your objectives for the first 24 hours will be very different from those in a week or six months.

You may not be able to fix these in your crisis plan, as it is impossible to know exactly how any unforeseen events pan out, but having an idea of the sort of things you need to achieve will again set you in good stead at a time when clear thinking is more of a challenge than normal.

Having clear objectives also gives you an ability to review your actions post the event. Taking the time and opportunity to learn lessons from the experience you have been through is an important part of your evolving plan.

5. Identify all your stakeholders

You must consider all your stakeholders within your business. These will include customers, employees, suppliers, unions, and neighbouring business and householders to name but a few.

Identify the separate groups that you will need to communicate with and then make sure you have the means to contact them. Good crisis communications will focus on each group, determining what they need to know and making sure that they hear from you directly, not just via the media.

6. And above all – keep your head!

“If you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

But make allowance for their doubting too;!”

The opening lines from Rudyard Kipling’s ‘If’, while written as advice from a father to his son, are equally appropriate for anyone faced with a business crisis. Panic must be avoided at all costs. It will lead to a short-term focus, poor communication and a failure to act decisively.

Putting crisis planning in place will provide you with confidence and a process to follow and manage the crisis. Start with this and you are already halfway to dealing with the situation you face!

At Nielsen McAllister we provide a range of crisis management and communications support packages. If you need a helping hand defining a plan for your business, then please get in touch with us on our contact page – we’re always happy to have a chat.

An example of good crisis management…

KFC restaurants in the UK found themselves running out of a vital ingredient – chicken!  Their MarComms team however created an award-winning campaign – proving good things can come from a crisis.

and one of poor crisis management

Samsung suffered considerable brand damage from the battery fire crisis with their Galaxy Note 7, when a rushed crisis response and replacements had exactly the same issue…

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