We all understand the importance of perception. The line
between perception and reality is often quite thin. Actions
taken by a communicator during the first moments of a
crisis can affect perceptions of an individual or company
well after the crisis is resolved.
All your marketing achievements - all the effort, the
financial expenditure, and the energy spent in cultivating a
high profile - can be dashed by one ill-handed
Enlightened companies, from neighborhood restaurants
and retailers to multinational merchants and manufacturers,
have a risk management plan for dealing with a disaster.
They buy insurance in event of fire, make contingency plans
for failed equipment, train management personnel to carry
on during labor strikes, code products to track sales, and
expedite a recall if necessary.
But as much thought as they've given to overcoming
operations disasters, many of those companies have given
little thought to how to communicate during the emergency;
how to let their consumers know "the food you ate here last
night was not tainted, "assure their employees that
"everything's under control at the XYZ plant," tell them
neighbors that "secure safety measures are in place,"
Simple, clear-headed, advance preparation of a crisis
communications plan is required in today's disaster pronone
Despite the specifics of each crisis communications plan
depend on many factors (the size of the company, its distinct
corporate culture, the product or service it deliveries), there
are some essential rules that all contain.
The following seven steps, adapted from Joan McGrath and
Myrna Pedersen, principals of Pedersen / McGrath
Associates, Ltd., Chicago, should guide you in preparing a
basic plan so that you can communicate efficiently,
effectively, and forthrightly at the moment an emergency hits
your organization. You'll get your company through the
incident with its image intact or even enhanced.
1. Identify all the opponents that conceivably could confront
your company. Include the routine crises your particular
business might face (eg. a bus company may expect a
highway accident) and the unexpected (eg. untimely death of
company president). Practice formulating responses to
these potential crises.
2. Identify the person who should be your company's
spokesperson. This should be someone high enough in
the corporate structure to be believable, and comfortable in
a public role. Be prepared to treat this individual of all
other duties for the duration of a major crisis in order to
concentrate on communicating accurately and honestly.
Only one person should have the role of spokesperson but
one of two alternates should be identified if the principal
spokesperson is ill, on vacation or unavailable for some
3. In highly public crises, the media would appear to be the
most important audience. But it is necessary to calculate all
the different "real" audiences you might need to reach and to
figure out, in advance, how you would reach them. A key
component of your crisis plan is to analyze each relevant
constituency you serve and to organize in advance efficient
vehicles to reach these audiences.
4. Develop your crisis communications plan with clear, easy
to access instructions.
5. Assemble material you may find to be relevant in a crisis,
either as background for reporters or as quick reference for
6. Make duplicates of everything and store them in a safe,
7. No matter how comprehensive, a crisis communications
plan is a living document and needs to be revisited
Finally, on an on-going basis, cultivate relationships that will
aid you in a crisis. Get to know members of the media
one-on-one. Meet in person or by phone with key community
officials, vendors, and customers to develop a rapport and
let them know yours in a caring company. This personal
interaction can buy you a lot of support in the eye of the