Be In the “Prepared Minority”

“It can’t happen to us.” “We thought we were prepared.” “We observed our emergency response plan (good, except that’s not a communications plan).” “We were within compliance guidelines.” “We listened to our legal counsel.”

Then the media showed up.

It’s a given that all organizations will experience some sort of unfortunate event: a fire; an accident; an executive’s arrest; layoffs; a data or security breach; or a slip of the tongue. How a company handles the situation in the media – the “forgotten frontier” – is often what determines whether it’s perceived as a success or failure.

What’s shocking is that some 95 percent of American corporations are under-prepared or completely unprepared for a crisis. All businesses, large or small, need a crisis communication plan. After all, if large organizations like Toyota, Chipotle and Johnson & Johnson are not immune, neither is yours.

Think you still don’t need one? Consider the alternatives:

Damaged Reputation: It’s been said that it takes 30 years to build a reputation and 30 minutes to destroy it. Factor in the immediacy of today’s news cycle and social media, and it’s more like 30 seconds.

Lowered Employee Morale: In the middle of a crisis, is it better for you – or the media – to keep your employees informed? The attitude that “they really don’t care what happens to us/our jobs/our security” can cut deep, particularly when trying to hire qualified workers or managers, or trying to regroup afterward.

Increased Scrutiny from the Government or Another Governing Body: OK, Is this a goal for any business or organization?

Loss of Customers: Today’s consumer is more fickle than ever. Long-term loyalties are a thing of the past, and winning back angry customers or clients will be a real challenge.

Lawsuits: Enough said.

Loss of Public Trust: This is a huge one. Rebuilding brand equity and public trust after a crisis can be a long and arduous road. Ask Target. The real work is proving that you care, by admitting what went wrong, and demonstrating the steps you’re taking to prevent whatever it was from happening again.

Mopping Up: A poorly handled crisis costs more to clean up. You already had a crisis situation on your hands. But a crisis can quickly become a bigger media mess that may end up requiring a larger (READ: more expensive) effort to fix misperceptions caused by a hastily-devised play that fumbles the ball.

Many business leaders will tell you that they’ve learned more from their failures than their successes, and that there’s no more enduring lesson learned than during a crisis. Having a workable, proactive crisis strategy in place will help management spring into action when a problem arises, help shape the message and reinforce consumer public confidence.

Although you may never need to use it, if the unthinkable occurs, a workable crisis plan will help to serve as an “insurance policy” that can restore your organization’s credibility and soften any legal or financial fallout due to negative press.

Does your organization have a workable crisis plan? Why or why not? What can you do now to be in the “prepared minority”?

By Shane Swisher Public Relations Manager