To survive a corporate crisis, a company must be able to respond capably and quickly, and must be ready to communicate that response. To minimize damage, convey control and instill confidence, a company must have an immediate action plan that includes an effective communication strategy.
Emergency situations can vary from leachate leakage at a landfill, a fire at a transfer station or bad press generated from a disgruntled employee. The following steps can prepare a business to communicate effectively:
Identify a core crisis team. Keep team members to a minimum. Generally, senior executives such as the CEO, CFO, general counsel, sales manager and marketing manager are essential. Each person should have designated responsibilities so that nothing is overlooked.
Get organized. When a crisis strikes, the group's leader should have 24-hour contact information for each crisis team member. Also, designate a location so that everyone knows exactly where to meet. An alternative site also should be identified.
One person should be in charge of assembling necessary supplies, such as multiple telephone lines, computers, a television, videocassette recorder, flip charts, etc. Once the team is together and has all the right tools, begin gathering facts and developing a response strategy.
Prepare in advance relevant company information that can be distributed to the media or other parties. These materials can include fact sheets about company products, services, environmental procedures and worker safety. During a crisis, there is insufficient time to gather all of this information and no time to educate reporters. Therefore, distributing these documents will help ensure accurate reporting.
Identify and train a media spokesperson. The media can be an effective way to disseminate a company's messages. However, if a person is ill-prepared and inexperienced in media relations, he can cause more harm than good. The spokesperson plays a vital role and should be trained in crisis response.
Generally, to avoid scrutiny, the CEO should not be the spokesperson. The CEO should step forward once there is good news to announce or the crisis has been resolved. However, there are situations when a crisis is so severe that the CEO should be present from the outset. This must be determined during the initial stages of a crisis. Clearly, the CEO also must be media savvy.
Additionally, a company should consider recruiting industry experts and other allies to speak on the company's behalf.
Communicate with all audiences affected by the crisis as well as those who should be alerted to the situation. A company's audiences may include employees, customers, suppliers, government regulators, shareholders, analysts, business leaders and insurance carriers.
Above all, being able to communicate effectively during a corporate crisis is imperative. Doing so will minimize damage to the company and will protect it to the greatest degree possible.
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