What to do when crisis strikes

By its very nature, when a crisis hits you will be on the back-foot.  But this is when the preparation you have done in advance, often many years ahead, will kick-in and the plan that was developed especially for this purpose will save your bacon.  If you don’t have a plan, then our advice is to develop one now.

When a crisis strikes, it is important not to respond in a knee-jerk fashion and your plan will allow you to respond efficiently.  It will take you through the steps you need to take to ensure that your response is appropriate and proportionate.

Spokespeople

One of the most important things is to make sure you have a spokesperson who is well trained. Media training is essential for everyone and the skills needs to be practised to keep them fresh and ensure that when they’re needed the spokesperson is able to deliver clear, unflustered messages that are factual and reassuring. In most cases, journalists will want to conduct their own interviews with company spokespeople who will, ideally be someone from within the company rather than an external consultant. There are some simple and very effective techniques that all trained spokespeople should be able to employ in live interview situations.  If you’re the designated spokesperson, preparation is always the best ammunition; anticipate the questions that will be asked, even the ones you hope won’t be, and prepare your answers, sticking to the facts and remembering that you represent the company, brand and reputation.  In all but a very few circumstances, interviews will be edited down to less than a couple of minutes, in most cases just 30 seconds or so.  So, be mindful of this when you’re talking and find ways to repeat your core message so that however the interview is edited, this message will be delivered loud and clear.

In times of crisis it is always important that your spokesperson expresses concern for the potential impact of the situation, whether it will have a direct or indirect effect on individual people, communities, the environment or wildlife. Never underestimate the power of empathy for taking the heat out of a situation.

If your company doesn’t have a spokesperson confident and able to deliver interviews, then the best advice is always to put your comment in writing – a written statement is far better than no statement at all and, if it’s in writing, you have complete control of your messaging.

Don’t try to hide

Bad news will not go away and should not be buried.  Think back to some of the massive media issues we have witnessed in our time and in many cases there was an initial attempt to bury or disguise the bad news – Edwina Curry and the salmonella in eggs crisis is a great example; the egg industry learned, at its great cost, that burying their heads was not the solution and it took them many years and the invention of a new quality lion mark to bring their industry back from the brink.  Those were the days before the Internet even existed and you can just imagine the magnified impact of a crisis like that now with the speed of social media. One ill-advised word from a spokesperson these days can spread across the globe in minutes.

Back-up team

As well as a reliable front-person, you also need a team in the background, who are responsible for the various different aspects of investigating the causes and managing the effects of the crisis, to bring the situation under control.  A simple, fast channel of communication involving these key people is essential and can be written into the crisis plan well before problems arise.

Media front-line

There should always be just one point of contact for the media – if journalists obtain their information from several sources the messages will undoubtedly become confused and it will be more difficult to contain stakeholders’ interest and concern. There will ideally be a team of people behind this first point of contact to handle the volume of enquiries that may arise.

Inform all other staff that they are not to engage with the media and make sure you give them adequate information and/or training in how not to engage – journalists can be extremely persistent and will use many ‘tricks’ to get the inside track if they feel the resulting story may be worth it.

Never, ever say ‘no comment’.  This simply implies guilt.  Much better to give a comment that provides very little information if that information isn’t yet available and will satisfy the media that action is being taken, for example ‘we are aware that xyz and an internal investigation is being conducted’.

Keep in mind that there is no such thing as ‘off the record’.  It is a journalist’s job to find news and they will invest time in building relationships to get their story – remember that no matter how friendly they may seem, they can and will use your words to get their scoop.

Make friends on social

Social media can be your friend and your enemy in times of crisis.  One of the important elements of your crisis plan will be the monitoring of and response to on-line conversations.  Great crisis communicators will use the relationships they’ve built up with customers and suppliers on social media to their advantage when a crisis strikes.  These people, loyal to your business, can provide an independent and objective endorsement of the company, its practices and ethos and, as long as they are treated with respect and honesty, will support the company’s position.  Remember that the vast majority of journalists are active on Twitter and use it as a source for stories, so take advantage of this to spread your reassuring messages in times of crisis.

Video

Video forms an integral part of many communications strategies these days and can be used effectively in a crisis too to deliver a clear, personal message to stakeholders which can be posted easily across many owned platforms, as well as being offered to the media.  A crisis will never happen at a convenient time, so ensure that you have a process in place for fast and efficient filming of statements at all times of day and night.

Internal ambassadors

Finally, don’t forget that your employees can and should be your most valuable ambassadors. While they may have been instructed not to speak to the media, they will be talking with clients, suppliers, colleagues, family and friends, so make sure they are well informed as soon as a crisis happens so that they’re able to clearly communicate the ‘party line’.

Five tips to protect your online reputation

Earlier this month Debrett’s, the go-to resource for all
things ‘proper’, announced a new course for 13 to 16 year olds called Coming of
Age, the main aim of which is to help young people to manage their online
reputations, highlighting the importance of online profiles for both employers
and employees.  

Frankly, we’re surprised it has taken this long! For those
people now nearing their mid-twenties, who were among the first to be impacted
by constant connectivity from their teenage years, this may come as too little
too late.  

It is increasingly common to look up job candidates,
potential first dates, and persons of interest from news reports or reality TV
on social media, search engines, and any other portal which can be used to gain
information on individuals and those of us who lived our teenage years without
every statement or action being publicly documented, share an enormous sense of
relief.

The story of Paris Brown, who in 2013 was appointed as the UK’s
first youth police and crime commissioner aged just 17, highlights the
pitfalls of constant connectivity. Her
achievement was short lived due to the ramifications of living of her teenage
years ‘online’.  Paris felt pressured to
resign from the post after tweets, which she had sent between the ages of 14
and 16 and since deleted from her profile, were discovered and deemed inappropriate.
Bearing in mind that the role this teenager was hired to do was to improve
relationships between the police force and the young people in Kent, you would have
thought that Paris’ ‘misdemeanour’ might have been overlooked, or put down as a
consequence of youth. If someone who was hired specifically to build bridges
with young people was made an example of based on her online history, the rest
of us should be quite certain that we will be subject to similar repercussions
should our online history prove inappropriate in the eyes of our employers.

So, while Debrett’s digital etiquette guide is aimed at
teens (who we hope will heed the advice and protect themselves against being
the next public example of how online history can come back to haunt you), we
think anyone not yet familiar with the most essential do’s and don’ts of online
behaviour, should pay heed to the following tips. After all, people already in
the world of work are not beyond making statements they might regret, or
behaving in a way they wish hadn’t been captured on a phone camera!  

What’s more, many individuals set up social media accounts
for use in a professional capacity, from small business owners to employees of
global businesses. It can become unclear whether an individual’s post is
‘authorised’ by the brand, or is an individual’s personal opinion. If you’re a
business leader, ensuring your team’s personal accounts aren’t negatively impacting
your business is essential, as is encouraging your team to create a positive
social media presence which can give your business an enormous boost.

Top five tips to
protect your reputation online:

1.      
Don’t overshare; stop yourself from venting
about the traffic, your day at work (including your colleagues or cleaner), or
airing any type of dirty laundry!

2.      
Consider privacy settings on your personal social
media accounts –remember that once you have shared, it may never be possible to
completely erase a status or uploaded photo or video, as people can download
your media, and even screenshot your posts, comments and responses (and do tend
to if you have said something you’re likely to regret)

3.      
Don’t say anything online that you wouldn’t be
happy to say in person. Stay positive and respectful, and try to offer
something that is fun, informative, or inspirational for your audience

4.      
Think about the image of yourself or the business
you are representing; try to show the best of yourself, but also try to avoid
showing off

5.      
Take care to write using correct spelling and
grammar. It may feel unnecessary, but avoiding ‘text-speak’, overly abbreviated
phrases or acronyms, poor punctuation and spelling mistakes will give a better
first impression to new audiences.

Your reputation – why it’s important

There is no
doubt that if your company has a strong reputation, you will attract better
people to work for you, your customers will be more trusting and loyal, and you
will be able to charge more for your products and services.  The bottom line is that reputation equates to
‘value’ in the market and can give your company a tangible edge over the
competition.

We have all
seen in recent years how corporate reputations can be shattered and the
subsequent damage to the underlying business – your company may not be a major
corporation but your reputation is still very precious and you fail to protect
it at your peril.

Your
reputation relies on the perceptions of your customers and other stakeholders,
including suppliers, business partners and employees.  In protecting this reputation it is important
to ensure that the reality of your business continues to match these
perceptions as it grows.  It is also
important to understand that as the world around us changes, the views and
demands of our stakeholders will also evolve, and that what your company offers
needs to change too to meet new demands.
A gap between perceptions and reality will lead to disgruntled
stakeholders and a damaged reputation.  

The best approach to reputation management is,
of course, to ensure there’s nothing negative to say and that no one is saying
it – this can be easier said than done.
A good reputation must be earned and once established needs constant
attention.

What
best to do?  Here are our top tips for
building and managing your reputation
:

1.    
Company
mission and values
:
A strong reputation starts with a clear mission and set of values which the
whole company buys into and lives by.  If
you can demonstrate a set of clearly articulated values and know that your
company’s behaviour mirrors these, then you’re well on the way. The things that
will impact your company’s reputation span right across the organisation, from
the way that you answer your phones to external callers, to your credit control
systems, the look and feel of your office, the way that you treat your suppliers.

2.    
Products and services: Your company’s reputation depends on the
quality and consistency of what you offer your customers.  If this isn’t right, no amount of marketing
spend will make your business grow.

3.    
People: Every single person within your business needs to feel responsible for
protecting its reputation.  To achieve
this, all employees need to understand and feel part of the mission and values,
and of the company’s growth and success. Put a thorough induction plan in place
for new staff and implement a training and internal communications programme to
keep everyone engaged.

4.    
Manage and learn from mistakes: Things can and do go wrong – we are only
human and most of us employ other humans to help us build our businesses.  So it’s important to monitor and predict
where weaknesses may be and have plans in place to deal with them quickly and
effectively.

5.    
Communicate: Building strong relationships with your customers is very
important for lots of reasons, some less obvious than others.  When your reputation is in question, loyal
customers can provide an important ‘balance’ to any negative noise around your
company.  Also, customers who are engaged
with you and your company are more likely to let you know in a ‘helpful way’
when things are not as they would hope; less engaged customers will be more
inclined to shame you using public digital channels.

6.    
Divide personal from professional: Keep personal matters private and well away
from social media to help protect the reputation of your business.  A social media policy will help to guide your
employees and ensure they understand what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour –
it is advisable to include this within your core employment contracts.

7.    
Get social: Your social media strategy should help you to monitor the
views and opinions of your customers, while also instigating and engaging in conversations
with them.  Learn a lesson from the big
brands which are now using social media channels for their front line customer
service – a prompt response to complaints and questions on social media can
turn a potentially damaging situation into a customer service success story.

8.    
Take responsibility: Now more than ever, customers, suppliers and
other stakeholders will expect your business to deliver more than just
profit.  They will be looking for
evidence of how your business is maximising its positive impact on the communities
in which it operates and minimising its negative impact on the
environment.  So, develop a corporate
social responsibility plan and make sure your stakeholders are aware of it.

9.    
Media training: Make sure spokespeople have had relevant
media training and are able to manage media interviews if the company’s
reputation is questioned.  It is vital in
times of crisis that you are not seen to be ‘hiding’ from the issues; you need
to present a concerned, reassuring and professional face for the business.  Stick firmly to the facts and do not try to cover
up truths – your customers deserve your honesty and will respect you for it.

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