for a moment about all of the individuals your organization interacts with
over the course of a month. You have customers, employees and vendors.
Do you know for certain that everyone is perfectly happy with your company
and its products or services?
What if someone's not?
Imagine that one of those people decides to make a little trouble for your
company. Remember the recent headlines about Anna Ayala, the woman who
"found" a finger in her chili at Wendy's? Wendy's estimates that
Ms. Ayala's hoax has cost them $2.5 million in lost sales. And that's just
in the month following her claim, and just in the Bay Area near the San
Jose restaurant where the incident occurred.
So if the unthinkable happens to you and your company, what do you do?
How do you respond? Where do you turn, and who do you talk to? More
importantly, do you want to be faced with a crisis like that and not have
a plan in place?
Every organization needs a plan to enable it to handle a crisis quickly
and effectively if the need arises.
The most important first step in crisis management is to prevent a crisis
in the first place. Take a hard look at your company, and examine
potential vulnerabilities from every angle, and seek out potential
problems in your dealings with your customers, your employees, and even
Develop a Crisis Communications Plan
This is one of those "don't try this at home" situations.
Working with a seasoned public relations professional will help you in a
number of ways. A pro will be able to provide an unbiased, outsider's
opinion about both your vulnerabilities and communications plans. An
experienced media relations pro can anticipate questions the media will,
and can therefore help you craft appropriate answers.
Your Crisis Communications Plan should:
Identify steps to gather
information about the situation - make sure you know the pertinent
Appoint a Crisis Team -
these individuals will be responsible for handling the crisis itself.
Appoint a spokesperson -
this person will typically serve as the point of contact between your
Crisis Team and the media
Identify your key
audiences - your customers, employees, vendors, and the media
If That Day Should Come
If the worst should happen, don't panic. Take a deep breath, and collect
your Crisis Team. Examine the situation quickly and decide on the
appropriate action, as well as the message you want to send to your
customers, your employees, and the public in general.
The most important actions is a crisis are:
Acting quickly to resolve
Tell the truth
Be accessible to the press
Show confidence and
Communicate changes in the
situation as quickly as you can
Many small business owners
think that crises only happen to big companies, like Wendy's. But consider
this: small companies often have a greater reliance on a smaller number of
customers or clients, making the loss of one or two principal clients
extremely painful. And mishandled crisis communication can damage those
relationships for a long time, if not permanently.
You've probably seen in your own business that when a customer experiences
a problem and you resolve it for them quickly, that customer becomes more
loyal than they were before the problem. The same phenomenon is true in a
crisis. Communicating quickly and effectively to your key audiences
can actually strengthen your brand image in their eyes.
Warning: objects in the mirror are closer than they appear
The object lesson here is: don't wait. Don't wait until you are in the
midst of a crisis to try to figure out what needs to be done. You will
have your hands full as it is, dealing with whatever situation caused the
crisis in the first place. As Louis Pasteur once said, "chance favors
the prepared mind." Your best chance for a favorable outcome in a
crisis is to lay the groundwork well in advance by developing a sound
Crisis Management Plan.
Whims is president of Enterprise
a Maryland PR firm specializing in media relations
for emerging companies.
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