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Dec. 15, 2017

En Garde!: Resolve to be better prepared for a crisis in 2018

Companies that emerge intact from a crisis invest in crisis management at all levels.


By Gayle Lynn Falkenthal

"Bad companies are destroyed by crisis. Good companies survive them. Great companies are improved by them."
- Andy Grove, former CEO of Intel

Whether it's the threat of an active shooter or aggressive sexual harassment in the workplace, companies that haven't put a crisis communication plan in place now realize the necessity of being better prepared for a crisis situation. By one metric -- corporate payouts - crisis responses have doubled since 2010, according to McKinsey & Company.

Being prepared for a crisis must be an active choice. Companies who emerge intact from a crisis invest in crisis management at all levels. Leadership makes it a priority. Training and drills reinforce the plan in place and help simulate the experience of the real thing.

Every organization understands the need for readiness to effectively deal with a crisis when it strikes. But the prospect of creating a crisis communication plan can be so daunting, it never gets done. Combine procrastination with the press of regular business, and it isn't addressed until the crisis hits and there's no choice.

Resolve in 2018 to take a single step toward achieving your goal. If you can complete just one initiative, make it one of these recommendations:

  1. Get the Chief Financial Officer on board. Treat crisis preparation as a risk management issue, with the costs of non-action greater than the costs of preparation. Senior managers may be more receptive to taking action when they see crisis communication as a risk management activity.

  2. Build a stronger communications team. Be sure you have experienced, senior-level strategists available whether full-time employers or outsourced support who know the current media and social landscape and understand reputation management. Your everyday communication team may do a wonderful job with routine digital media or marketing, but isn't skilled in hard news media relations or high level messaging. This can contribute to delays and missteps in your responses.

  3. When seconds count, don't lose precious response time because you don't have all possible methods of contact easily available and current. If one of your key personnel is trekking in Nepal, who's her backup? If your intranet is down, where else can you get your contact list? This is a simple matter of organization in advance so you can focus on the crisis at hand, not the information gathering. Produce multiple forms of contact lists, and review quarterly at minimum.

  4. Prepare a "dark site" website, an alternative version of your website's home page or newsroom page with placeholder or fill in the blank crisis response messages. Inform your audience a crisis situation exists; assure them you are addressing the situation; and advise them of any action taken or recommended. Have social media messaging and referral links drafted and ready to issue at a moment's notice.

  5. Make sure a senior level communication professional has primary responsibility for managing and implementing your social media strategy. You shouldn't delegate it to an intern or entry-level employee in a crisis. The everyday rules of social media management don't apply in a crisis. Quite the opposite, aggressive engagement might throw gasoline on a fire. When the crisis starts on social media, it requires higher-level consultation and decision making to address it.

  6. Feeling confident because you have a crisis communication plan? It's only the first step. If you conduct fire drills quarterly, or building evacuation drills, add a crisis communication response drill at least as often. Conduct a real-time contact call-down. Assemble your leadership team on a Saturday afternoon.

  7. Create a series of likely crisis scenarios based on your risk assessment of most likely threats. Conduct tabletop drills in regular workshops to practice and improve your response. This is where an expert in crisis communication planning and response can help your organization train for optimum preparedness.

  8. Learn how to stay on message in a crisis. Consider conducting crisis response media training, which is far different from doing media interviews about your latest product or your new headquarters. This allows you to identify your best spokespersons, which isn't always your CEO, owner, or board chairman.

  9. Know when and where to call on outside help. No matter how good your plan is or how well you're prepared, sometime you've got to call in reinforcements. Interview and secure an agreement with a consultant or small agency that can help you with advice and hands on deck when the response gets too big for your in-house resources.

Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, APR, Fellow PRSA, is a veteran strategic communication and crisis response consultant. She is the president of the Falcon Valley Group based in San Diego, California Connect with Gayle on LinkedIn:


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