Are you prepared for a crisis? Every individual, business, and yes, even the state of Maine, should and can be prepared. Crisis management should be high on the list of management and leadership responsibilities. A crisis can cause any organization to suffer revenue declines, loss of consumer and investment community support and ultimately the death of the brand, product or service and even the firm or organization itself.
Crisis management is the management of the operations during the actual crisis (in the midst of the event) and the management of the business or corporation before, during and after the crisis, notes Jack Gottschalk in his 1993 book, “Crisis Response.”
Organizations that have experienced a crisis include airlines, food establishments, pharmaceutical companies, chemical companies, energy providers, hospitality firms and even governments and presidents. A crisis can be related to product problems, violence, weather, financial management, crime, contamination, material spill disasters and thousands of other events.
What strategies should be ready and put in place when a crisis occurs? Who is in charge? What are the responses? Who is the spokesman? All of these questions and more should be scripted and addressed in a crisis management plan. There are seven key parts to such a plan, Gottschalk noted:
Part 1: Mission and Approach
It is essential to be organized prior to any crisis occurring. Since you have no prior knowledge what is likely to occur or what questions one might be expected to address, the need to organize critical data about a company or business is essential. Most important, determine what and who needs to be protected (patents, brand equity, CEO and chief financial officer) and identify the crisis management team members. Clearly identify who is in charge, who is the backup and who is the next backup. Who will address the media and how will all the team members be reached (24 hours a day)?
Part 2: History and Potential Crisis
Develop and record any significant historical information on any type of product, brand, facility, personal, etc. crisis or problem that has previously been occurred, list past and all future potential crises. Identify levels, categories and related definitions for each type. Mishandling crises results in a bigger crisis unto itself. Recognize that crises occur in stages. The time leading up to the crisis is referred to as “pre-crisis.” There is actual occurrence, referred to as “crisis” or “event.” Then there is the “post-crisis” period, where damage control needs to be effective. If damage control fails or the crisis is mishandled, you have the next stage, which is the “resultant new crisis.”
Part 3: Strategy in First Steps
Immediately notify the crisis team leaders the instant a crisis or potential crisis is identified. Get into motion, establish a gatekeeper whose job is to control all people and inquires in an organized and predetermined manner. A crisis room should immediately be set up. This becomes a gathering place for response control and further contains the crisis and related data to one locale. The crisis room should have a complete array of communication vehicles. Stock a “crisis kit.” A crisis kit includes much of what is listed in part one and any current “official” statements.
Part 4: Strategy in Audiences
Immediately define and identify all audiences’ victims’ families, impacted employees and the media. Prioritize a key list of data for all severe crises for your stakeholders. Identify the best mechanisms to reach each audience, person meetings and briefings, telephone and videoconference. Know each audience well and anticipate any potential problem (individuals) as well as any potential ally. Know and follow government rules, regulations, procedures and laws to the letter.
Part 5: Strategy in Media
Identify the corporate media policy and spokespeople. Be sure the appointed gatekeeper for the media is in place ASAP. Have a media database ready at all times with any meaningful data and facts noted. Have data, which supports the company and brands, products, personnel and processes from any third-party source readily available. Have all rules and regulations understood by the spokesperson prior to meeting with the media.
Part 6: Walk-through
Simulate a crisis and conduct a periodic walk-throughs or drills for the crisis management team. When it comes time to face the media be sure to do another walk-through with all spokespersons. Be prepared, always anticipate and don’t create another crisis by not being factual.
Part 7: Evaluation
Establish an item-by-item checklist and evaluate the crisis team’s performance on each item. Make notations and take corrective actions on any items you feel did not go well. Express appreciation to all those who helped the crisis and to the media who treated your organization fairly. Reevaluate the crisis plan and make any modifications.
With the process understood and the plan in place be sure to practice the seven key steps in crisis management. Remember, crisis management should be one of managements and any businesses top priorities.
Ronald A. Nykiel, dean of the College of Business at Husson University, has a number of books on travel and tourism marketing and served on a presidential commission on travel and tourism, the Board of the United States Travel Association, and on a governor’s revenues forecasting commission.