By Bruce Hennes, Hennes Communications
Sexual misconduct, data theft, unfair labor practices, OSHA complaints, mergers & acquisitions, active shooters, layoffs, accusations, food tampering, employee fraud and product defects are just a few of the situations today’s CEOs face.
It’s been said that an organization’s reputation is its largest uninsured asset – an asset that can be seriously damaged with an ineffective crisis response.
Traditional media leap on stories like those listed above. And with the presence today of social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, not to mention a 24/7 media environment, the reputation you’ve built up with years of good work can be shattered in an instant.
Today, your brand can face a significant reputational challenge in the time it takes to bang out a feverish 140-character tweet. When it comes to social media, in particular, company leaders no longer have the luxury of gathering around a table to discuss strategy. There’s simply no time.
Effective Crisis Response Is More Than An Emergency Plan
Often, organizations will dutifully create an operational crisis plan, but lack a concomitant crisis communications strategy. So, what should your organization do?
The heart of crisis communications planning focuses on preparing for the most significant, gut-wrenching threats – both operational and reputational – that might affect your organization. To identify those threats, a “Vulnerabilities Audit” with top management will enable your team to assess the risks the company faces, both in terms of their likelihood and the severity of the consequences they might have on the company’s reputation or operations. The second part of the plan focuses on how your organization will communicate about those threats.
Having a crisis communication plan is an excellent first step. But a plan is no good gathering dust on a shelf. Many organizations next do crisis/media training to make certain they have trained executives who understand the needs and demands of today’s media, enabling the organization to deliver its messages clearly and with credibility.
The most-prepared organizations also do tabletop drills to test the plan and put their staff through the rigors of real-time crisis simulation, thereby improving the chances of responding effectively when the real thing hits.
Organizations that want to stay ahead of the curve also keep a sharp ear to the rail with a comprehensive monitoring program that closely watches news content delivery platforms — print, broadcast, web, mobile and social. And many progressive companies have third-party crisis counsel audit their current plan as it evolves, to make certain there are no chinks in their armor.
What’s The Payback?
From a reputational perspective, how your company communicates during a crisis will likely be just as important as how the incident is managed operationally. Good planning and training will mean:
Your response to a crisis event must be rapid, strategic and authentic. Especially in today’s media landscape, where news breaks first on social media, managing the message is a necessary skill set for executives (and not necessarily one of the skill sets that got you into the C-Suite).
When your organization’s reputation is on the line, so is your bottom line. Strategic crisis management and crisis communications planning is your brand’s most effective insurance policy.
Bruce Hennes is CEO of Hennes Communications, one of the few firms in North America focused exclusively on crisis management and crisis communications. The firm serves corporations, government agencies, nonprofits, education and healthcare organizations, as well as law firms and their clients, that are “on trial” in the Court of Public Opinion. The firm’s past and present clients include the 2016 Cleveland Host Committee for the Republican National Convention, ThyssenKrupp, Avery Dennison, Lubrizol, Kent State University and Menorah Park. Bruce serves on the executive committee of the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association and he’s an adjunct professor at Cleveland State University’s Levin College of Urban Affairs. For more info: www.crisiscommunications.com