“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”
In this famous quote, Warren Buffett lays bare the hard truth about reputation: something painstakingly nurtured for decades can be destroyed in a matter of minutes. It applies at the personal level, but also at the business level. Illegal misconduct, workplace accidents, and incendiary social media posts are examples of the many crises that can arise suddenly and cause irreparable damage to a business.
A sound communication strategy paired with deft execution, however, can help a business rebound from a controversy and even turn sharp critics into allies.
Below are the basic steps that can help any company, large or small, manage a crisis.
1. Identify your crisis communication team (preferably ahead of time)
Assign a communication team and develop a response strategy before a crisis occurs. Time is of the essence in such a situation, and your response can be much more efficient if plans are already in place for the unexpected. If there hasn’t been preparation, move quickly to assemble a team before any other significant action is taken. This will allow your business to communicate with a single, unified voice at a time when every action or inaction, no matter how small, will be heavily scrutinized. Alongside the company president, the most effective teams are built with people in three areas: department leadership with “inside knowledge and insight,” legal counsel, and public relations experts who understand how the story will likely be perceived by the journalists assigned to cover it.
2. Gather all the facts
To begin crafting a response to a crisis, a company’s potential weaknesses must be identified. With input from your response team, compile a list of anything that could damage your company. Identify specifics of what actually happened by gathering as many facts as you can, including how the incident is currently being viewed by the public. It’s important to note that viewpoints of your crisis may vary, depending on different audiences.
3. Craft a crisis response
Once fact-gathering is complete, it’s time to provide a response. Choosing the proper language when conveying your message is critical. Keep it simple and uniform across all channels. As mentioned before, scrutiny will be high, so consistency and clarity are key. Also include specifics describing how your company has or will be addressing the situation.
Social media is an especially important tool in a time of crisis, because it allows your business to quickly disseminate information and take control of the message. Short but frequent posts of transparency will keep your business ahead of the narrative and prevent you from having to play “catch up.” Be sure to dedicate a team trained in crisis communication to rapidly respond to feedback and negativity.
4. Monitor and move on from mistakes
After initial crisis statements are presented to employees, shared through social media and made public through a designated spokesperson, it’s time to begin a monitoring phase. Pay close attention to both internal and external communication about the company. Promptly address follow-up questions and concerns, politely but firmly request corrections from the media when necessary, and share new developments by issuing follow-up statements.
In time, once the worst of the crisis is over, focus can turn to restoring your business’ reputation. Sound crisis communication lays the foundation to repair public trust, which can be strengthened again by focusing on pushing positive news through marketing and communications channels. Distribute media releases and share blog posts and testimonials that highlight achievements and demonstrate your credibility.
5. Dissect and learn
After the proverbial storm has passed, time should be devoted to conducting a thorough review of the crisis and how it was managed. How quick were planned strategies executed? How did the communication strategy fair when utilized in a real-world scenario? What strengths and shortcomings became apparent among the crisis team as it went to work? Are there any internal changes possible to prevent a similar crisis in the future? Answering these questions honestly and taking corrective action where necessary better positions your business should another conflict arise. The experience could even be used as a case study implemented in a training guide for the communications team to manage future emergencies.
Timely communication is key to curtailing the immediate damage from a crisis and also critical in maintaining the long-term reputation of a brand. Preparedness allows for the most efficient response to an unexpected situation, while steady analysis gives your team a continued edge as it evolves. Unlike any other traditional undertaking, a crisis strikes unexpectedly and without set timeframes. Yet it is likely to be the most consequential endeavor your business will ever face. Set a plan, be ready to use it, and be thankful when you never do. But don’t ever lose sight of what could befall your company in the blink of an eye.
If you’re looking to strengthen your brand and build your business’ reputation, connect with Baer Performance Marketing today!