Here are my top five tips for putting in place a crisis management plan:
1. Nominate a crisis management team.
A crisis team can be a mixed list of trusted internal and external people. Think about the people you want on your side, and who promotes the image you want to portray. The nominated group need to be experienced and clear communicators.
From this list decide on the spokesperson for a crisis situation. It is good to have one person to speak both internally and externally so people know where to go for essential information. The spokesperson must have the necessary skills and training.
2. Know your messaging.
Key messaging is something that should be riddled through an organisation. Having the key messages written down and available to the crisis team makes them clear and accessible.
Knowing what your organisation's key messages are will keep you on track and will steer the conversation back to outcomes and the future. It will also buy you time while you develop strategic messaging for the specific situation at hand.
3. Brief the team regularly.
Your crisis team should meet at least twice a year, more often if there is a sense of risk or potential for risk like lunching a new product, redundancies or withdrawing from a market.
The meetings should run through the plan, should confirm the spokesperson and what the key messages are for the organisation. Having a team prepped will allow you to act fast if you need to. You will be able to respond quickly in a confident manner.
4. Be prepared for the media.
Knowing how to deal with the media and the media cycle is essential, especially for the nominated spokesperson and senior company holders. Consider media training during a yearly meeting.
Remember that anyone with a smartphone can now be considered media, not just someone from a major news network. Know how to engage with social media, particularly if that is where your audience is.
An example of using social media for crisis management is when Thermomix responded to the Federal Court of Australia ordering them to pay more than $4m for false and misleading representations. The day the ruling was handed down Thermomix released a video and Facebook post saying “how much we regret what happened, are very sorry about it, and apologise to those who were affected”. The social media post directed consumers to a dedicated website set-up called Thermomix facts to handle the complaints process.
5. Focus on the future.
Learn from your mistakes and move forward. A crisis, while best avoided, is an excellent opportunity to see where the chinks in the armour are. Recognising early on that a crisis is also a learning opportunity will reassure the management team that trouble often will pass.
After you have weathered the storm, implement any essential learning’s and establish measures to avoid similar future situations. Sometimes a crisis is the best thing for an organisation to grow or an indicator you are performing at a high level.
It is also important to know your limitations when it comes to communication. I sit on many of my clients crisis management teams as I am able to offer an outsider and expert view - a little detachment can go a long way to sizing up the situation. It can be easy to get caught up in the moment and rush a statement that may not be necessary. A sense of calm is essential both internally and externally.