In the 15 minutes allocated to the conference session, Mike Evans asked the participants to come on a journey with him in real time to think about what they would be doing for their organisation if a crisis were to occur. From his own experiences, he highlighted these key learnings:
Have a plan, turn it into a checklist and know it by heart
No matter how well planned and drilled you and your team are you will find out it’s impossible to prepare for the shock when a crisis actually happens. You will need to put your personal feelings and emotions aside and deliver both professionally and calmly.
To be able to action the plan at a time of crisis it will need to have been agreed with all the stakeholders beforehand. You can turn the plan into a checklist so it is straightforward to execute day or night and you will need to have rehearsed it 100s of times. Making crisis preparedness part of your everyday communications activities will enable this to become second nature to you and your team.
Get the first few hours of your crisis response wrong and it is almost impossible to recover without reputational damage. It is your role in a crisis to protect the reputation of the business and it is how you react in the first few hours that sets the tone for the entire response.
At this point you will realise the magnitude of the tasks ahead. You will need to plot out what happens in the days, weeks and months ahead. You can’t be phased or overwhelmed; you’ll need to break things down and doggedly pursue them.
You know that your crisis plan was written in peacetime. You crafted the statements to show empathy and support for those involved. Yet, it's not words that protect reputation – it’s the actions that back them up. It’s your role to help your business take ownership.
A crisis is a long-haul event
There will be different phases to the crisis, but it is a long-haul event and will deplete resources and the emotion of the situation will weigh heavy on those involved. Create back-ups for everyone’s roles. Make sure you and your team are well rested, have had the opportunity to spend time with a counsellor, and are eating well and exercising; these will be critical success factors in your response.
Reaching the point of readiness can take years of preparation. Review your plan and regularly rewrite it based on feedback from colleagues from across the business. And then run through the different outcomes from the various scenarios.
Write statements, discuss their implications and achieve buy-in from across the business. Train the team so they are confident performing their roles, simulate the scenarios and, finally, put a duty roster in place.
At this point, you will be relieved that you didn’t let the distractions of the day-to-day business stop you from spending time and resources preparing. As you see the plan roll-out quickly, seamlessly and without being impacted by the emotion of the situation you now know that this was the right approach.
Let social drive the response
Driving your crisis response through social media is key and you will be glad you did. It means your first statement will be out quickly and it’s how you will drive proactive communications and broad stakeholder engagement which will start the process of your brand recovering.
Take your decision-making seat at the crisis table
With the team well-rehearsed and individual members confident in their abilities to perform their roles, your initial response plan should be working well. So, now you’ll be able to take your seat at the crisis table and contribute by:
• Providing strategic communications counsel to your board.
• Making communications intrinsic to the decision-making process.
• Proactively communicating to stakeholders what is happening.
• Mapping out the scenarios of what happens next.
However well prepared you are, your plan will soon end and you will move into unchartered waters. You will need to use the time your well-rehearsed plan has afforded you to fully understand the implications of your situation. Every crisis will be different and this time will allow you to finesse the nuances.
Are you ready to deal with it? Let’s talk more, one practitioner to another.
Mike Evans and Elizabeth Maclean co-founded Herdwick Communications, a communications consultancy that specialises in strategic communications, crisis readiness and response.