Enhancing the case for crisis preparedness

While communications professionals recognize the reputation-related benefits of crisis communications planning, many organizations still fail to invest the resources to effectively prepare.

While communications professionals recognize the reputation-related benefits of crisis communications planning, many organizations still fail to invest the resources to effectively prepare. For those yet to experience a crisis it seems like an issue for tomorrow. After all, what is the ROI on a planning and training exercise if the worst never happens? How do I justify the expenditure in this economy on a ‘what if' right after I've let go of employees or decimated the marketing budget to cut costs?

As obvious as the answers are to reputation managers, some decision-makers need more than an abstract discussion of risk and the penalties for inattention before they fund a preparedness initiative. They need a stronger case for ROI than “you'll be sorry later.”

Crisis communications planning is about more than worst case scenarios. It's about organizational leadership, operational efficiencies, and relationship-building.

To start, the planning process – with media training refreshers and reevaluation of communications policies - sharpens those leaders who speak to their stakeholders. They become better-equipped public faces and can strengthen company reputation. This planning also reveals colleagues with a wealth of information that can be applied throughout the organization.

Further, organizations can find efficiencies, streamline approval processes and implement new (and free) technologies that are critical in a crisis and useful for normal operations. Domino's, for example, might have spotted the deficiency in its digital presence and customer service before its recent Web flare-up and started engaging customers online, as it does now.

Finally, a good crisis plan relies on a circle of friends who can serve as supportive voices in a crisis. Strengthening these relationships with advocacy groups, NGOs, or academics provides substantial benefits beyond crisis preparedness. These friends can validate a range of things, from new product launches to sustainability initiatives, and influence a range of audiences, from potential customers to policymakers considering vital legislation.

For example, Kimberly-Clark, working with Greenpeace, recently announced more environmentally responsible fiber sourcing standards aimed at better forest conservation. This deal came after a prolonged campaign by Greenpeace calling attention to what it believed were Kimberly-Clark's inadequate sourcing standards. Though the ideal is to engage advocacy groups sooner, this partnership not only brings a ceasefire, but helps to preempt such adversarial campaigns in the future.

These reasons are potent ammunition to convince decision-makers of the ROI inherent in crisis planning. Demonstrating that there is more to gain than readiness for an abstract ‘what if' can convince skeptics that it is an investment worth making.

Michael Kempner is president and CEO of MWW Group

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