Most of us can remember the last time we went through a weather emergency that either became a crisis, or could have become one. Maybe you were inside your home, or farm building, when you heard tornado sirens blaring. Or, maybe you were driving in a rainstorm and encountered an impassable pool of water in the road. Or, maybe you got stuck in a snowstorm, and had to sit in your vehicle until the snowplows came through.
Whatever the case, try to remember what went through your mind as the emergency was unfolding. Many times, our first thoughts relate to: Am I in real danger here, and what information do I need to have in order to accurately assess this? Who, if anyone, should I call to let them know about my situation? What do I do right now – stay put, or take some decisive action? Do I have the tools and resources I need to get me through this?
While we can never really predict a crisis – whether it’s weather-related or business-related – we can prepare for one, assuming that, sometime in our lives, we will have to face an emergency situation. Some people are, quite understandably, very averse to preparing for a crisis. They see it either as unnecessary, or futile. The CEO of one of the largest dairy cooperatives in the country, when urged to prepare for a possible outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD), said that it was unlikely that such an outbreak would actually strike the United States (the country has been FMD-free since 1929), and that, if it ever happened, “we’d all be screwed anyway,” no matter how much prior preparation was done.
Yes, this reaction is understandable, but it is also alarming. It’s surrendering to the whims of fate. The fact is, our survival, in life as well as in business, may depend on how well we prepare ahead of time for a crisis that may or may not occur. In my experience, preparing for any crisis helps us respond better to most emergency situations, even if they are different from what we were preparing for.
With that in mind, here are Ten Tips to help you prepare for a crisis situation involving the image of your business or organization.
1. Form a Plan – Get to work now on starting the process with your business or organization. Identify potential scenarios of crisis situations you may have to face one day. Write down at least three crisis situations that could develop for your organization. This will give you some idea of what you need to prepare for – AND it will make your discussions with others in your organization more concrete. You cannot plan for what you cannot envision.
2. Identify a Team – Identify a TEAM of people who should be on your team, depending on the scenario. This could involve virtually every department. The communications people, certainly. But also your food safety and nutrition research team … the business development team … the accounting team … and your legal team as well. Also, receptionists, security guards and our IT department. Once you identify this team, organize an initial meeting to discuss the need for a crisis plan, and their role in it.
3. Identify Stakeholders – Regardless of your organization, you have people and organizations that rely on you for goods and services on a regular basis. The stakeholders may differ, depending on what scenarios we are considering. Form a list of stakeholders for every scenario you are considering.
4. Develop Contact Lists – The first thing you will need to do in a crisis situation is to communicate immediately with your most important people. You will want to have the names and contact information codified, so that nothing slips through the cracks. Create this in Evernote on your computer. It’s easily searched, shared and found in a crisis.
5. Start with the Why – As the crisis unfolds, you will not be able to do all the preparation yourself. You need the support of other people in your organization. In order to get that support, you need to be able to show both management and your various teams at work WHY your organization needs a crisis communications plan. You need to establish this before you can effectively delve into WHAT you need to do to prepare.
6. Involve Outside Resources – In most industries, you have resources apart from your own organization that can help. You will want to identify those ahead of time, so that your people know where they might be able to turn to for help.
7. Identify Spokespersons – In a crisis situation, who will be speaking on your company’s behalf? Will it always be your CEO? Maybe not. Nor will it always be YOU. And remember, we’re not just talking about who speaks to the media. We are also talking about who communicates to your Stakeholders. In a crisis situation, everyone is a communicator!
8. Form Media, Online Policies – You’re going to want to refer back to your SCENARIOS to understand what your organization’s role might need to be related to giving media interviews, and communicating about the crisis to multiple sources ONLINE. … Assume that you WILL be contacted by the media, and you WILL be attacked by someone online. Not only that, but chances are the media will contact not just the Media Relations person, but other people in the company as well. Plus, your employees are on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and possibly other online properties. You will need to give them guidance on this.
9. Practice Your Plan – Assume you are taking time to discuss with your crisis team, then write down some plans and procedures. What next? Will you just stick all of this in a drawer – until something happens and you have to do something with it? An alternative is to actually prepare to practice your plan – either with your team, your entire organization, or your entire industry. The dairy industry, through national and state-regional dairy promotion organizations, conducts an annual series of crisis drills to this effect, involving farmers, staff from farmer organizations, veterinarians, state and federal government officials, attorneys, food safety experts, agribusiness company representatives, cooperatives, processors, and food retailer and restaurant chains.
10. Review and Revise – No matter how well you prepare, you will find that you’ve managed to forget or overlook something. But that’s okay! Because identifying gaps in your plan is an essential part of the process – as long as you identify those gaps and take steps to address them. …. One agricultural company found that, if a major crisis in dairy confidence occurred, it had no idea how to field the dozens or hundreds of phone calls that would come in. It changed an automated system that instructed media people to call specific individual extensions. It also created a generic greeting that would substitute for a live receptionist in the event of a crisis. … The point is, our work in crisis preparedness is never really done. The system must allow for ongoing updates as needed.