Five Questions About Crisis Plans
Now that we’re in the thick of primary season, Albers Communications Group President Gina Pappas has some thoughts on crisis planning for the candidates that can also apply to companies.
When a candidate gets thrown by a crisis, you often hear people say, “If they can’t handle that, how are they going to handle being president?” So, of course, they spend a lot of time planning for contingencies.
Similarly, every business should have a crisis plan, but you would be surprised at how many don’t. Even those who do might not have a comprehensive one. For example, a business may be well-covered for a natural disaster-type event, but have nothing in place for a communications crisis.
You have to think about every possible crisis or incident that could impact your business, from a breach in confidential client information, to misconduct by an employee, to a lawsuit. Crisis planning goes much deeper than most companies realize, and getting caught off guard by a crisis without a plan in place can kill a business as effectively as it can a presidential campaign.
Some of the components of an effective plan are:
- Determining what defines a crisis for your business
- Brainstorming/identifying possible crises specific to your business
- Laying out the steps you can take now to reduce your risk of crisis
- Assigning and training a crisis management team
- Doing any back-end prep work, such as creating contact lists, media lists and identifying peers, or allies, who can “go to bat” for you should a crisis occur.
It’s also important to conduct crisis drills that allow you to test the plan and make sure you aren’t missing any important steps.
The classic example is Bill Clinton in ’92. He had already finished a distant third in Iowa and then reports of an extramarital affair surfaced. He and Hillary took a calculated risk by appearing on 60 Minutes to deny the story and he wound up finishing second in the primary. After that, he dubbed himself the Comeback Kid, a term that became a self-fulfilling prophecy with the media and the voters.
The calculated strategy of getting in front of the story was surely the result of having — and trusting — good advisors. We would advocate that businesses do the same. If you lean on the people who have expertise in a crisis situation, they will help you identify the right moves to minimize the damage or turn the story around.
We recommend that businesses review their crisis plans on a yearly basis. As you’re doing your yearly communications planning, examining your crisis plan should be part of it. And, of course, adjustments may have to be made throughout the year to accommodate for changes in your business or industry. But once a year is a good guideline.