It’s Your Business: Managing a crisis

Joe Smith

Special to The Record

Nearly every day we read or hear about some company or organization facing a crisis situation. How well would you fare if you are faced with something that is beyond your control?

While you may not know exactly what crisis might befall you, it is essential that you have some kind of plan in place to deal with the situation.

This was brought home to me recently when I was shopping in a local store. I was at the cash. Their entire system went down. You could see the panic unfolding as employees realized they could no longer process transactions or what to say to lineups of customers. It was obvious to me at that point in time there was no plan in place to deal with the situation.

Not exactly an oil spill or other major disaster but certainly something that can have a negative impact on business. The issue here, or rather, the objective in any crisis, is to have a written plan that should include specific actions that can be taken by employees or yourself to mitigate any damage. This is not unlike a health care facility that has a series of codes which when announced informs employees of what needs to be done.

One of the first tasks in developing this plan is to establish scenarios that you might find yourself having to deal with. Then determine an appropriate message or response for each situation and ensure your employees are either authorized to deal with the situation, or can direct inquiries to the appropriate representative.

You also need to decide whether the situation can be contained within the company or store, affects a small external audience or is an issue that has garnered media attention and will require a broader approach.

Other things you will have to consider are what vehicles are best used to communicate your message. What kind of collateral materials will you need to support the message such as media releases, letters to customers, social media posts or even paid advertising?

There are lots of templates out there on the internet to help point you in the right direction. Here are a few things you should consider when dealing with a crisis.

• First of all, act quickly to deal with the situation.

• Establish a key message.

• Choose a spokesperson and identify who your key audience should be.

• Tell the truth.

• If you are wrong own up to it.

• Be accessible.

• Ensure your communication’s message is consistent.

• Do whatever is necessary to correct the situation.

• Above all, do not try to avoid the situation; don’t ever say “no comment,” “this is off the record” or be caught unprepared.

One final thought. Don’t ever think it will never happen to me… even charities, religious organizations and those with good intentions can find themselves in a crisis situation. As for my store experience – having no information we simply left our intended purchases at the cash and went elsewhere to shop.

Joe Smith is a communications consultant and an accomplished fine artist. He can be reached via email at joesmith@shaw.ca

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