Avid TV watchers may remember Mad Men’s Don Draper thumbing through a copy of real-life poet Frank O’Hara’s book Meditations in an Emergency between regular crises at his often chaotic ad agency.
While your business may be free of the chaos experienced in Draper’s corporate misadventures, the reality is that a crisis can hit any time. A calming book of meditative poetry simply isn’t going to guide you through it.
Potential crises can be planned for or even avoided by highlighting areas of concern through a vulnerability audit lead by the CEO and other senior figures within a business. However, when confronted with a crisis, it’s vital to maintain a sense of calm. All eyes will be on your leadership team. Keeping the team calm in the event of a crisis will help ensure the response from your business professionals are not only measured but also quick to instil confidence in their response.
Preparation, preparation, preparation – key to calmness
Maintaining a sense of calm will be easier with effective processes put into place. This process should be built around a Crisis Management Team (CMT) that is always ready to act. The CMT should represent a cross section of the business, with a reliable senior representative from each department.
It’s essential that this includes someone who can cover your social media channels and, most importantly, a nominated spokesperson. This responsibility should be given to the most suitable person within the business, either from the Communications team or the Senior Leadership team who can think with a clear head and demonstrate strong communications skills.
The team that handles everyday corporate communications and public relations, whether this be an internal team or appointed agency, must play a leading role in the CMT’s activities, contributing their skills and experiences in best practice communications. Their guidance and expertise should instil calm throughout the CMT and the business as a whole and serve to free up the time of the leadership team who can focus their energies on righting the wrongs that have caused the crisis.
Your crisis strategy should include pre-prepared communication materials that the CMT rely on for guidance. These should also be shared around the wider businesses, ensuring any communication regarding the crisis follows protocol.
Clear, concise, and accurate communications
Any piece of communication during a crisis must clearly convey that the business is aware of the crisis, that it is being taken seriously and is applying all its efforts to resolving the situation. It is vital to post a holding statement while the crisis is being resolved and this should outline an intended timeline of steps towards the resolution.
The holding statement must be shared to all stakeholders and once this is shared externally, the business will have more time to develop the best possible path towards a resolution with as much information as it can gather while removing the opportunity for those efforts to be further exasperated by sharing of inaccurate information. This will only require more of a clean-up operation and should be avoided.
Your crisis preparations should also highlight all resources and facilities that will be of use as the situation unfolds. Essential resources should include contact lists, check lists and any other information that is deemed vital. Then comes scenario planning, for a multitude of different issues can arise and every last one should be considered in advance.
Location is another important element that must be defined in advance. The CMT must be provided with a location such as a board room that can serve as the round-the-clock nerve centre throughout the crisis. It is vital to provide a separate room for press calls where listeners on the line cannot overhear information that is not intended for external use.
Turning a negative situation into a positive for the brand
While a crisis can be unavoidable, handling it in the right way can often benefit a business. By handling a crisis in a professional, measured and transparent manner, businesses can emerge relatively unscathed as opposed to having to recover from the impact of a tarnished reputation. A well-executed and thoroughly thought through response from the business leader can even strengthen the reputation of the business in the wake of a crisis.
Strong leadership, a CMT that draws from all departments across the business and a strong pre-prepared strategy will help your business through even the most unanticipated crisis. With all of this in place, you might even find time for a spot of meditation or an episode of Mad Men as the crisis is calmly resolved.