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20 years

Thursday, August 26, 2010

THE BEST CRISIS: THE ONE YOU NEVER HEAR ABOUT

One of the best points in the recent NY Times article on BP, Toyota and Goldman Sachs http://nyti.ms/9KT2ck was the statement that organizations that handle a crisis well are rarely heard about.

The famous question about the tree falling in the forest applies. Did it fall if no one heard of it? Or was the fall gentle enough that it made so little news or web noise that it was quickly off the media's watch list?

There are a few key factors that often determine if a crisis is a non-media event:
· having a crisis plan
· testing the crisis plan
· management that reacts quickly and follows the plan when an event occurs
· a concern for the organization's reputation
· maintaining strong and transparent ongoing relations with media, employees, customers and stakeholders
· almost always, a bit of luck

We'll explore each of these factors in the next few blogs. Let's start with developing the PR Crisis Plan. The point is that most organizations have up to date evacuation and operational plans; many fewer have PR or Reputation related plans. Or if they have plans, they don't update them with the latest improvements, such as adjustments for social media or adjustments when an organization goes into higher risk activities.

Notice the one word the gets repeated - plan. There is no substitute for planning and drilling because speed and accuracy of response are crucial to containing a crisis as close to a non-event as possible. We rely upon our local fire departments to plan and drill, plan and drill and plan and drill. Then if the fire strikes your house or office complex, the trained and experienced first responders work quickly and professionally to keep the damage to a minimum.

What goes into the crisis plan? First figure out the team. The team should help decide what types of emergencies or internal crises can become PR or Reputations crises. Who should be on the team? At the very least, representatives of senior management, finance, PR, IR (if public), risk management, legal, HR, IT and SME's (subject matter experts).

Once you have the team, then you can decide what types of crises you need to plan for and the difference between an Emergency and a "show stopping" crisis. Emergencies occur every day and we're trained to respond. These are usually the "tree didn't even budge" events.

In every type of business or organization, there are the usual crisis suspects - from operational issues and emergencies to reputation issues - all of which could attract media attention. After the general list, then you need to apply the Mirror Principle: hold up a mirror to your organization and see what might impact your operations. For example, a firm with a low profile CEO and no international operations, will have some similar and some very different potential crisis issues from a like company with a high profile CEO and far flung global operations. The development of a crisis plan combines rigorous auditing of the what if's and the development of step-by-step processes for crisis response.

The plan must also have a basic list of what steps to take in a crisis - often incorporated into a decision tree. All the steps should be in a single document or in a secure on-line file. But most modern plans get reduced to one or two wallet sized laminated pages or PDA files, with links to the plan stored on a server. Contact numbers and emails are table stakes for those on the team and the commitment to monitoring events and rapid response. Literally after that, it's all in the details.

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