Kelly Lyvere

Let’s face it, we never know when a crisis will happen, which makes a majority of work from a significant crisis responsive. A crisis could be associated to a direct result of poor customer service, a legal dispute, natural disaster, product recall – basically anything adverse that can be attributed to the integrity of a company. Consider the crisis GM is currently facing with their safety recall of $1.6MM cars last month. GM’s PR principle throughout this process has been to the put the customer first (read more).

No matter the source of the issue (manufacturer, after-market, OEM…) it is always good to have a plan in place to make reacting seem like a form of art rather than a stampede. The pre-plan in most cases will not be the exact answer needed at the time of crisis, but it will rather guide your actions in the midst of a crisis. Learn how to minimize reputation damage and prevent further exposure by preparing a crisis communications plan below.

Form a Crisis Communications Team
Identify a team of crisis experts that represent different areas of the company and add value from different standpoints. Legal services, public affairs, finance, owners and senior management is a good start to forming such a team. Each member needs a clearly defined role that outlines their contribution goals and responsibilities in order to prevent future complications during crisis decision-making times. It is good practice to stay organized with a group email distribution list and a private team folder on a file share. Another option is to have a team share site that could host: the team organization chart with contact information, situational strategies per level of risk, the process flowchart map to match the risk as well as examples of prior crisis communications for reference. For those experiencing high volumes of crisis, I recommend looking into crisis management tools such as Earshot by MissionMode.

Identify Potential Crisis Threats and Plan in Advance
The crisis communication team should pre-identify potential threats that could happen and categorize them in order to measure the level of risk. I recommend having a 6 gauge meter in place that defines low threat, moderate risk, high risk, very high risk, extreme threat and critical damage. Each level of risk needs an action plan in place that defines the type of threat and the appropriate communication management process. For instance, for high risk and above situations, it would probably be wise to notify the dealership owner and other executive level management team members to make them aware of the situation.

Take Action to Minimize Damage
As a crisis makes its red carpet appearance, immediately call the team together. Assess and identify the situation and determine the appropriate position and key messages to address the emergency. Remember – responding quickly, accurately and truthfully will minimize damage. The team should be able to respond to the media via written response and/or have a spokesperson. A written response is the best route to use when words matter and legal stakes are high. A spokesperson is necessary for responding to larger scale events.

Communication Crisis Best Practices
Keep your key messages short and sweet to identify who, what, where, when and why. This statement should be shared with those internal employees that are currently handling the media via email, phone or social media (especially those working within the division and/or managing the products/services). Some employees may not be approached by the media, but their customers might reach out. It is far better to hear from your employer on the situation rather than Google. The types of documents needed may include a customer letter, internal talking points, a live satellite conference and a media/press statement. For internal purposes, it is useful to provide a bit more information for employees answering questions – include your position statement, what the company is currently doing to handle the situation (high level), any messages for sustainability/safety/etc., continuation of business and current operational position, how long this situation is expected to last, the internal impact of the situation, alternative solutions and other information that impacts means of business.

In close, crisis planning means being prepared. All companies need communication crisis planning. Whether BtoB, BtoC, nonprofit or fortune 50 to fortune 500, there will always be some type of negative press that could potentially harm brand reputation and cause a company crisis. Prepare for the worst and show up to handle any situation.