Thursday, June 26, 2008

Factory shooting underscores importance of solid crisis communications planning

Yesterday’s tragic shooting spree at the Atlantis Plastics plant in Henderson, Ky., serves as an unfortunate reminder that disaster can strike at any time.

Fires, explosions, natural disasters, chemical spills, manufacturing accidents, labor strikes—every crisis threatens a company’s stability, its reputation and, in the worst case, its survivability.

That’s why, when a crisis occurs, your response must be swift and effective. And the secret to taking quick control of a crisis? A sound crisis communications plan. It’s a strategic roadmap to get you through a situation, while minimizing potential damage.

Here’s a primer for developing your plan.

Getting started

  • Set your crisis management team. Include the CEO, department managers, public relations team members, legal representatives, security and human resources personnel.

  • Outline your protocol. Work with your internal or external communications team. Get the necessary resources aligned. Work through the possible contingencies and conduct a crisis audit.

  • Determine your communications process. Identify your audiences and how you’ll communicate with them—face-to-face, telephone, e-mail, etc. Prompt, proactive communication is essential.

  • Anticipate common questions. Prepare responses that can then be modified based on the nature of the crisis.

  • In the moment of crisis

  • Never provide a "no comment" response. Such evasion is often interpreted as though you have something to hide.

  • If you’re still gathering information, say so. Share what you know and pledge to provide additional information as soon as possible. You’ll show that you’re actively working to stabilize the situation.

  • Never lie or speculate. Stick to the facts that you can speak to with certainty.

  • Exude calm. Your demeanor can directly affect public perception of the situation and your company overall.

  • And here’s the best tip we can give you, by far: If you don’t already have a crisis management plan, start developing it right now.

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