You might not want to think about crisis communications, but you should. In fact, right now, when there are hopefully no crises looming and no issues on the horizon, is the perfect time to consider how your company would navigate some tricky spots.
There are two types of crises your company could face: those that come out of the blue and those that come with some advance warning. Let's talk about those that come with some a little heads up. Maybe you know you are going to have to close an unprofitable location or cancel an unprofitable service. Maybe you know you have to cut staff. Maybe you know a bad product review is about to come.
What do you do about it? Be thankful you have some notice and use your time wisely to get ahead of it. Here are some crisis communication steps to take before anyone else -- your customers, clients, vendors, employees and other stakeholders -- are aware of any issues.
1. Surround yourself with experts.
If you have a communications staff or external public relations firm, make sure to loop them in. I've seen companies guard developments so closely that they don't inform and seek counsel from the very people who know best how to craft messages, communicate with the company's various audiences and handle the media.
And if your communications and PR pros are good at their jobs, they are going to ask questions that challenge you, and you should welcome that. Trust me, you want to hear from your people the tough questions -- and prepare your answers -- before hearing these tough questions from reporters, customers, board members and others.
Issues management is one of the biggest reasons you should have these experts around. Use them and give them the benefit of time to do what they do best.
2. Keep a timeline.
As soon as you know what's looming and until the end of the crisis, keep a time line. What happened? How did you get here? What are the key dates? What steps are you taking? What has the response from different stakeholders been along the way?
You want to do this for a few reasons. First, if you are late in following the first step and have to bring in outside communications help, you will need to get them up to speed ASAP. Also, once the crisis is in full swing, you won't have time to track down answers to questions from reporters or others. You don't want to trust your memory when recommending a next step or writing out talking points or customer messages or website copy.
Finally, when the crisis is over, you have notes to review and actions to adopt or improve upon for the next time something happens.
3. Look at the big picture.
Clients have asked if my team and I could write things like website copy to communicate to customers about an impending issue. On a few hours notice. Without much information. Without any plan.
You can't act so fast that you are willy nilly writing messages with no thought to timing or how one piece of communication affects another. You have to take time to plan. Consider everyone who needs to be informed and create plans for how, when and what to communicate to each group.
For example, you might not want to let your entire staff know you are shuttering a facility weeks or months before you plan to do so or weeks or months before you plan to communicate that to the outside world. Consider that anything you say internally can easily be leaked to the public and harder for you to control.
You have some time. Use it wisely. Slow down a bit. Get organized. Plan.
Once the issue has passed, have a staff meeting to talk about what went well as far as communication during the crisis and where could you improve. What did you learn for next time? Having this sort of conversation is another way to buy time when future crises arise.