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Crisis Communication Plan Crucial to Successfully Surviving the “What Ifs” in Today’s Marketplace

One element of a communications plan that is often overlooked is the all important crisis communication plan. While the construction industry is accustomed to having a written plan for a jobsite accident, such documents also are essential to guide your firm should the media call you and put you in a reactive position for a variety of other scenarios, ranging from layoffs to a disgruntled employee or a contested building project. With a review of the following, you can take the initial steps in assembling the necessary roadmap to effectively communicate in a crisis.

ASSEMBLING THE TEAM

Begin the process of creating a crisis communication plan by collecting a cross-section of your organization, to include someone from accounting, human resources, marketing, project management and more. You may even consider including your legal counsel either formally as a participant in your meetings or informally through a review meeting once your plan is assembled. Be sure everyone selected for the team recognizes the importance of this committee and its role in helping the organization survive a crisis – no matter how big or small. Obviously, it is crucial that all members be in a position to make decisions, represent their role/division, as well as be available. Don’t make the mistake of putting something on the committee simply because of their title or role in the organization. Even more important, this group should meet frequently so all members are familiar with the other members, their style and preferences should a crisis occur.

IDENTIFY THE WHAT IF SCENARIOS

With the proper players assembled, your team should identify the possible scenarios you are likely to encounter. Brainstorm these “what ifs” and then assemble action plans for the scenarios, to include a detailed list of who to call for what and when. Establish a chain of command, recognizing that it may make sense to alter the day-to-day hierarchy as successful execution of this plan requires different skills and objectives. This action plan should be reviewed periodically and updated, especially when your firm enters a new market, secures a high-profile project, or changes substantially in any fashion. In addition to requiring all members of the team to keep a copy of the most recent plan at their residence, be sure to keep copies of the plan in numerous other off-site locations in case of disaster at your corporate headquarters.

WHO SHOULD TALK TO THE MEDIA?

Contrary to popular belief, the highest ranking official at your company is not necessarily the best person to be your corporate spokesperson. Regardless of whether or not he or she is a polished speaker, the appropriate person should not be the highest employee in the organization since that leaves nobody to clean up any blunders or media mishaps. For example, if your president says something out of turn or disseminates the wrong information, there is nobody to retract or set the record straight. Obviously, there are several exceptions to this rule and it is often appropriate for a president to comment on, for example, an employee death due to a job site accident. However, such remarks should be confined to condolences to the family while the cause and explanation should be delivered from someone lower in the company in case controversy surrounding the comments arise. The ideal person should have a high enough title and position in the company to command the respect necessary to serve as a credible source, however, his/her role would allow them to say they don’t know the answer to something.

WHAT ARE YOU WILLING TO SAY?

By clearly identifying what you are willing to disseminate as a general policy, you will be able to respond to a crisis in a much more effective manner. As a general rule, privately-held] companies should be willing and prepared to disclose anything publicly announced, information on products/services active in the marketplace, items of local interest, facts – such as corporate employee figure (in round numbers), as well as policies and practices that are well-established. However, a privately-held company should not be expected to answer questions regarding financial projections, operating results, market share, marketing strategy, products under development, legal matters and upcoming changes. That does not, however, preclude the media from asking about these matters. Document the answers to standard corporate facts to ensure they are readily available.

ANNOUNCING THE PLAN

Once the plan is assembled, it is important to announce the chain of command and procedures internally. This overlooked step often results in the best plans getting thrown off-track simply because the receptionist mistakenly provided too much or wrong information to a reporter. As such, make sure your front-line employees are made aware of the policies and procedures, as well as appropriate contacts, regarding the media so they aren’t caught off-guard by a reporter at a job site or on the phone.

PUTTING THE PLAN TO GOOD USE

Crisis communication is just one element of a public relations program. While crucial to surviving a crisis or challenge, the documented contact list, policies regarding data dissemination, as well as identification of key contacts and spokesperson(s) can also be used as a proactive tactic in sharing positive information about your fi rm. Avoid the trap of using your communications committee merely for reactive tactics by also seeking input on positive ways to communicate corporate information to the community and the industry. Ideas include highlighting community sponsorship and participation in charity events or other causes, new hires, corporate anniversaries and functions, speaking engagements, new technology and comments on trends. This effort also will serve to build a solid working team in proactive, not merely reactive, crisis scenarios.

If you are interested in developing a crisis communications plan for your company, engage your local marketing consultant, discuss your needs with your attorney or contact Constructive Communication, Inc. for assistance (614.529.6551).

Wendy Ward, Vice President, Constructive Communication, Inc.
wward@constructivecommunication.com

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