After the last 20 months, most organizations believe they are prepared for anything. We have experienced firsthand how a crisis can significantly and quickly impact business operations. Many businesses, however, don’t realize they are unprepared until it’s too late.
Companies can prepare by evaluating the crisis process, team, tools and resources they have in place. Effective planning ensures organizations are prepared to respond to a crisis in a timely and responsible manner to mitigate risk and protect their brand. Making communication part of 2022 planning and strategy is more critical than ever as the pandemic continues.
Listen to learn.
The world has significantly changed, and people now expect more from businesses. Employees and customers increasingly expect businesses to do better, stand for something more than profits, and operate and communicate with transparency.
Organizations that know who they are and what they stand for — and act accordingly — are better positioned to earn their stakeholder’s trust and loyalty. A clear organizational purpose, mission and values provide guidance and establish a strong foundation to support crisis responses.
Establishing a solid understanding of your key audiences makes it easier to meet them where they’re at during a crisis. Proactively and consistently nurturing relationships before a crisis helps leaders establish the trust needed to protect the brand, sustain relationships and support business continuity during times of disruption.
Prepare and plan.
Organizations that prepare and plan for crises are most likely to quickly respond, minimize risk and effectively recover. When planning for 2022, leaders must develop or refresh both business continuity and crisis communication plans.
Start by identifying key risks and high-potential crisis scenarios for your business. Clearly define the events or triggers that would activate a crisis response, such as COVID-19 outbreaks, product boycotts or personnel incidents. The severity of the crisis will determine the response level, and each situation should be assessed for its impact on the company in the actual crisis.
Next, build a step-by-step plan to guide your team through both the immediate response and long-term planning for crisis communication. The plan should include a leader and cross-functional team responsible for initial response and communication strategy. It should also be aligned with the business’s continuity and compliance groups to ensure the response strategy is integrated across all aspects of the company.
Although it’s frustrating, know your team will never have all the information needed in a crisis. They will need to do the best they can to quickly assess the situation and thoughtfully choose the appropriate response. This will be easier and less stressful with a comprehensive plan that includes:
- A dedicated team with clear roles and responsibilities for crisis management, response and communication
- A complete internal and external stakeholder audit, including preferred communication channels
- Designated and trained spokespeople and identified external resources (e.g., legal, public relations)
- Prepared materials that can be customized and distributed using predetermined communication channels
- A monitoring and listening process to understand the issue and marketplace conversations
Once an established plan is in place, refreshing it through drills and practice is essential. This will ensure that the plan remains current and the team is prepared and ready to respond to an unexpected issue at any time.
Well-managed crisis responses handled with factual, open and authentic communication can generate higher levels of trust and minimize speculation and assumptions. As you prepare for 2022, include training for leaders that explains the important role authenticity, listening and communication play in managing crises. For example:
- Minimize speculation and confusion by helping stakeholders understand the issue and explaining how the company plans to move forward. Being willing to engage in a crisis is critical, even though it may feel uncomfortable. Businesses that stay silent or hide risk suspicion and loss of trust.
- Be thoughtful and sensitive about external brand marketing that could be perceived as misguided or opportunistic as business continues during a crisis. Monitor the marketplace regularly to understand changes that may occur.
- Have consistent communication during a crisis — this is critical. Provide regular, proactive updates to stakeholders, even if there is nothing new. In the absence of information, people will make assumptions based on misinformation or fear, which can lead to larger issues.
- Engage stakeholders with a multi-channel approach. Put feedback loops in place, such as text and phone hotlines and email addresses, that are consistently monitored and managed. Leaders need to know what internal and external audiences are thinking and feeling during a crisis to effectively respond.
A crisis can occur at any moment and severely impact business operations. Organizations that make crisis planning a priority in 2022 are in the best position to quickly manage and resolve issues, and sustain brand reputation and key business relationships.
Ayme Zemke, APR, executive vice president, client service, leads client partnerships at Beehive Strategic Communication, a purpose-driven strategic communication firm specializing in integrated communication and other services. Zemke is a certified crisis-communication leader and has more than 20 years of strategic communication experience.[Illustration credit: sergetbitos]