Crisis? What crisis?

Posted by: Tim Crowther
Categories: PR

So many companies plan for business growth and, whilst the current economic furore has knocked many of those plans for six, establishing a strategy for the future remains a hot topic at most company boardroom meetings. However, what is often omitted is planning for bad news. Tim Crowther, our resident PR and broadcast expert, explains why crisis management ought to be a regular agenda item, and considers how you might respond in the face of adversity.

First of all, let’s consider how wide-ranging the definition of a crisis can be. At one end of the scale it might be related to the impact of economic doom and gloom, and that’s no less important than what might lay at the other end. Let’s look at one scenario; what would your response be should there be an industrial accident or fire on site, potentially with the loss of life? Quite rightly, your primary concern will be with those affected by the crisis. Meanwhile, whilst you are dealing with this you can be sure that somebody, somewhere, will have called a news desk and, within a very short space of time, a journalist will be on your line.

At best, you’ll have time to consider your response before returning their call. However, look out of your window; you may already have several news hacks camped outside, along with their broadcasting paraphernalia of satellite trucks, cameras, microphones and cables. Inquisitive voices will be asking questions that you need to answer in order to minimise corporate damage.

“No comment” is not an option. We live in a very news-hungry world, with local and regional media all consuming news at an unprecedented rate. Don’t get me wrong; the vast majority of journalists are not baying for blood. I am one by trade, and I’m a decent sort, honest… However, many will want a story for their next bulletin or looming deadline, and so will ask and will be persistent. It costs media outlets a small fortune to mobilise the army of kit needed for a ‘live’ and so no journalist will want to return empty handed.

The point of a crisis management plan is twofold – how to manage the media when the chips are down, and in doing so how to manage situations that have the potential to damage the reputation of your business and its senior operators.

A crisis management plan should never centre on ‘spin’, but those who write it need to consider how your business should react:

  • what is the plan for managing the media?
  • what are the most appropriate statements to make?
  • who are the best people to make them?
  • are they media-trained?

Other considerations include:

  • how do you impose a lock-down amongst your colleagues so that whistle-blowing is minimised and only those identified within the plan as company spokespeople do the talking?
  • what information should you put into the public domain, and what are the mechanics for doing this?
  • which stakeholders need to be informed of ongoing issues?

Of course, all of this is just a summary – it’s far from a crisis management strategy in itself. However, I hope it offers a taster into the kind of issues that need consideration and incorporating.

When you’ve put all the hard work into your planning, the finished document may sit on your shelf and never put into action (although it should, by its very nature, be refreshed frequently so that it remains relevant to your business.) Then, should you ever have to face a crisis and you’re starring down the barrel of a live broadcast camera, you’ll be glad it’s there and that you put some thought into how you should react.

For more information about how Harris Associates can help with crisis management planning, please call our PR Director Tim Crowther on 0113 230 4411.

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