Workplace Safety Update: Crisis Communication Plans

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When you began your business, you had a detailed plan for success. As time went on, you planned ahead for growth and expansion.  Along the way, a crisis or unexpected event is bound to happen.  What is your plan of action in time of crisis? In today’s world of instant information and Internet rumors, every business must have an emergency communication plan in place – before disaster strikes. A communication plan designates who will speak for the company, to whom and what entities they will speak, how the communication will occur, and what will be said. This critical plan provides a clear template to follow when stress and emotions are running high and there is a demand for an immediate response. A well-planned response will present your company as calm, informed, and in control at the time of the crisis.  This plan of action also helps in receiving fair treatment in the media and in helping to mitigate damage to the company’s reputation which may occur as a result of the crisis.

What constitutes a crisis?

A crisis can be anything that threatens to damage the continuation of your business. Resulting damage can affect your long and short term strategies, daily operations, financial condition, and finally, your reputation.

Frequency

Workplace injuries and deaths are a fact of life in many industries. A crisis preparedness study conducted in 2011 by Penn Schoen Berland found that 66% of the businesses surveyed had suffered a crisis, with the number even higher in manufacturing and technology-based businesses. If your company has even just one computer or a small website, it is vulnerable to problems from cyberspace – from your employees doing things they shouldn’t, to breaches within your email or internet service provider or from someone hacking into your banking institution. These aren’t life threatening situations, but they still require an organized and thoughtful response to both internal communications – to employees and their families – and external communications, to the community, emergency responders and the news media.

A checklist

  1. Designate a single spokesperson and ensure they have been trained in how to get the company message communicated. No matter the nature of the crisis or the method of response, there should be one “face” that is addressing the issue.
  2. Define the top five mostly likely disaster scenarios to strike your business and potentially damage your reputation.
  3. Formulate 1-2 key messages for each of these scenarios and build in flexibility for specifics. Determine what information is most important? What message needs to be heard? Make sure the message is simple enough to be understood across all media.
  4. Identify and connect with other people you may need to contact in the event of an emergency. Establish the relationship now, define their role in an emergency, and go over your plans with them. These may include:
    • Marketing/Public Relations professional (See #6 for more)
    • Safety/security expert
    • Regulatory agencies
    • Legal counsel
    • Insurance agents
    • Accountant
    • Internet service provider
    • Relevant media
    • Local police department
  5. Identify your communication target audiences in each of your top five most likely scenarios. These might be internal (employees, families of employees, stakeholders, clients, vendors) or external (general public, media agencies, regulatory agencies, law enforcement) contacts.
  6. Specify what channels of communication you will use. It is essential that your message be consistent across all media. If you are not comfortable with new media, such as blogs, Facebook and Twitter, you are not alone; according to the same PSB study mentioned above, 54% of business decision makers do not feel confident in this area. If you need to consult with a PR firm, do so by looking for expertise in social media and crisis management.
    • Email
    • Telephone
    • Your business voicemail message
    • Local media – print, radio, television, online
    • Website
    • Text messaging
    • Social media: Even if you don’t already have social media channels in place, you will need to use it to monitor what folks are saying about you, and to immediately respond to questions and concerns. Remember that in today’s world you are expected to communicate WITH people, not just TO them.
  7. Practice! Put each of your top five scenarios in action and practice. Prepare the people involved in each situation, and identify specifically what you are likely to need from them.

After the crisis has passed

When the dust has settled, take a deep breath and review. Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Are there any business or safety practices that need to change to prevent a similar event? If so, start making those changes.
  2. How effective was our message during the crisis? What might have worked better?
  3. Are we continuing to manage our reputation online? Have your PR person continue to monitor, and respond to, what is being said on social media, review sites, etc.
  4. How might we turn this situation into something that will work for the company? Consider developing a seminar on “What we learned,” or writing a news story or presentation.
  5. What contacts were most useful? Maintain those relationships.

Insurance

Companies who have created a plan for handling crises before they occur respond to situations more effectively and recover far more rapidly than companies without a plan. Remember: The crisis itself is less likely to put you out of business than how you handle the situation. Having a plan ahead of time is similar to having insurance for your reputation. Putting in the time to develop a solid plan before anything actually happens pays dividends when the unexpected occurs.