Tylenol Tampering Scare
Exxon Valdez Oil Spill
Firestone Tire Fiasco
A Whole New Ballgame
Crisis Plan Checklist
Putting it into Action
|Many actions can be taken prior to an actual crisis that can help a company quickly and effectively respond when it does finally occur. Speed and efficacy are paramount, so it is important these steps are taken before, rather than during, a crisis. "If you need to spend the first few hours creating a plan, you may have missed your window of opportunity and will always be playing catch-up."30
Establish a Crisis Management Team (CMT)
This team should be composed of eight to 10 decision-makers in the organization, each representing a different background and area of expertise. They should include members from the public relations department, management, personnel, security and any specialists that relate to the specific industry. In addition, this team should select a leader and a spokesperson. This spokesperson is the only person who should be made available to the media, at least initially. Although the media often want access to the CEO, this should be done on a limited basis, and he/she should not be the main spokesperson. The team members should be creative with strong problem-solving abilities, for "it is the team concept that brings together the expertise to understand and evaluate the specific crisis and come up with solutions that can help your organizations deal with it."31 This team will make all the important decisions during the time of crisis and will be intimately involved in every detail.
Develop a Crisis Response Plan
One of the Crisis Management Team's main responsibilities is to develop a crisis response plan. This plan should be developed with the assumption that a crisis is any "event, revelation, allegation or set of circumstances that threatens the integrity, reputation, or survival of an individual or an institution."32 These plans will direct the organization's actions in dealing with the crisis. Key to the process of developing this plan is generating a set of "worst-case scenarios" in which the group lists all the potential crises the company could face. These would include everything from the CEO resigning to allegations that the company's products kill people. Many of the scenarios in between the two extremes can be grouped together and will have similar response processes. Based on each potential crisis, a specific crisis plan should be developed to outline the exact response needed. Each plan would require materials, such as official statements, outlines for press releases, fact sheets and backgrounders, that deal with the situation to be prepared ahead of time. In addition, it is essential to speak with one voice, so internal and external messages should be crafted to adhere to this important guideline. Effective crisis response plans allow companies to "hit the ground running"33 because so much of the legwork is done ahead of time.
Update the Crisis Response Plan and Practice it Regularly
Once the plan is developed, it should not be placed on a shelf and forgotten. Circumstances change, and so must the plan. To be able to implement the plan, a company must practice the plan regularly. Role-playing exercises and seminars by former journalists help to prepare the crisis team for the pressure of a crisis situation. In addition, the media can be unrelenting, especially to an ill-prepared spokesperson. It is important this person be prepped before speaking to the media. Speech patterns, camera presence and poor body language can all affect the delivery of the message.
Establish a Strong Relationship with the Company's Legal Counsel
During a crisis, there is a natural split between the legal, financial and communications departments of a company. Each brings to the table its own unique angle, and these ideas often collide. "To a public relations professional, saying 'no comment' is akin to death. For an attorney, it is safety."34 Despite their conflicting views, it is essential there is teamwork between these groups. Therefore, it is advisable for communicators to develop a relationship with both legal and financial decision-makers to allow for all interests to be represented and a compromise developed ahead of time.
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