STAY CALM AND STICK TO THE PLAN
It’s been an interesting few weeks in the world of public relations with much of the industry chatter around issues management.
Dreamworld’s tragic and very public PR disaster has sent a rocket through the business world; no doubt many companies are now dusting off their crisis management plans.
Even at arm’s length, a death or injury is confronting and distressing but to be at the coalface is horrifying.
Sadly, I have managed several traumatic incidents over the years and seen how shock, grief and confusion can turn a once confident leadership team into a chaotic muddle of self-doubt and second guessing.
It’s normal to have speed wobbles in the middle of a crisis but having a solid, strategic plan supported by a crack team of experienced and well-trained professionals will keep your organisation on the right track. An experienced crisis management team will always bring you back into focus.
Don’t freak out when the media comes knocking
If you were to witness a car accident, would you run to a reporter to tell them what happened or is your first instinct to go to the car to see if everyone’s alright?
Common decency applies in crisis management as it does in life.
The first priority in a crisis must be the safety, security and wellbeing of anyone who’s directly affected. This may include employees, contractors, customers, volunteers, general public and stakeholders.
I’m not sure why but kindness, care and empathy are sometimes forgotten when a news camera appears at the front door. Yes, you need to handle media inquiries but it’s the people on the ground who come first in any emergency.
Poor planning is hazardous to your business health
Best-practice crisis management is when an organisation is well-prepared for the unexpected. You should be able to spring into action instantly and that’s a lot easier if you’ve done your homework, assessed all the potential risks, and built step-by-step guide for every crisis scenario.
Pre-planning allows you to take all the time in the world to consider every conceivable risk and plot well-conceived strategies. That way, when the proverbial hits the fan, it’s much easier to make the best possible split second decisions.
Surrounding yourself with a team of people who have the experience and know-how to provide critical advice when you need it is a major key to crisis management success.
Each member of a crisis leadership team should be so well rehearsed, they know who will look after any impacted contractors or employees; what is the plan for impacted families; who is responsible for contacting next-of-kin; who will activate the counselling advice phone number in 30 minutes and liaise with emergency services; and how their organisation will inform the public and deal with social media posts.
It all seems simple, yet many plans are shoved in a cupboard, out-of-date or incomplete and recent PR disasters show exactly how exposed that can leave you.
7 simple steps for getting crisis ready
1. Expert advice. You don’t get a lawyer to check your heart, so don’t trust your crisis communications to someone who doesn’t have experience and expertise.
2. Review. Is your current plan up to date? A crisis management plan should be reviewed every 12 months. For example, does your current plan deal with social media?
3. Ignorance is not bliss. Assess the risks and prepare well in advance to improve the chances of smooth communication and brand recovery.
4. People first. Managing a message and the media is not the priority in crisis. Safety, securing the scene, and supporting or helping victims, their families, customers or employees involved in an incident is the first priority. Processes to deal with this should be well underway by the time a PR person is drafting the first media statement.
5. Open, honest and timely. If you don’t know, say so. Don’t guess, pretend, fabricate or speculate. You will get caught out.
6. Team work and practice. In my airline days, even though we regularly dealt with low to medium level incidents, we frequently practiced managing major to large-scale incidents.
7. Don’t try and go it alone. If you don’t have the expertise internally then seek out external, senior advice on your crisis management planning and implementation. And most importantly, heed that advice.