How many times have you read a headline in the days (or sometimes hours) following news of a workplace accident or a failure of governance, that the company, government department or minister were warned months in advance of the problem?
Too many times issues are identified early yet nothing is done to address the situation until something terrible happens; workers are injured or killed, businesses go bust and reputations are destroyed.
There is an old saying: "It's not the crime, it's the cover up" that does the damage.
So too is a failure to identify issues and address them early that often leads to a full blown crisis for a business. Particularly so if it becomes apparent that something could have, and should have, been done to remedy the issue yet nothing was.
Many a crisis can be averted when it is still an issue.
What’s the difference?
With an issue you have time to plan and respond. An issue is spotting trouble in advance and dealing with it: either rectifying the problem if it is within you power to do so, or preparing in advance how to deal with it when the inevitable happens.
A crisis hits suddenly and is an immediate fight for your reputation.
Contemplate the ‘ifs’
Of course, anything can happen at any time but very rarely is it something that could not have been predicted and prepared for.
For example, if you are a mining company, workplace health and safety and environmental issues are key areas where you can prepare for a crisis. Workers can be injured, and environmental accidents can occur.
Similarly, if you are a food manufacturer, it may be inevitable that you’re going to have to deal with a product recall, or food poisoning incident.
Not for profit organisations who support vulnerable people should ensure that they have rigorous policies in place to safeguard the welfare of those they care for.
Once an issue is identified, do something about it before it impacts negatively on your reputation to any significant degree.
Doing so can ensure that an issue never turns into a full blown crisis and a public battle for your reputation.
Inevitably however, things can and do go wrong despite the best of intentions.
Plan and prepare
Herein lies the key to effective crisis management: planning and preparation.
From a communications perspective, establish a risk register that maps out all potential scenarios in relation to identified issues and guidelines for responding to such events.
Agree on your company’s position and approach with regards to each issue to ensure cohesive internal and external responses.
Develop a key message strategy for each issue to provide high level guidance to internal and external messaging – everything else you do should flow from this.
Draft Q&As to likely uncomfortable questions, and identify and train your spokespeople. Even if your key spokespeople are media trained, we recommend refresher training.
Issues are always evolving, and media training is a great opportunity to road test your key messages and assess where the weaknesses are.
Ensure that your ‘live fire’ media training exercises are as close to the real thing as possible.
Obviously, not all eventualities can be planned for, however you should prepare for a range of potential issues and risk scenarios and adapt your responses as appropriate.
Acknowledge the need for flexibility
As Moltke said “No battle plan survives first contact with the enemy.”
Your issues plan will be good for the first 24 to 48 hours, after which you will need to adapt to the conditions on the ground as the issue unfolds.
Ask for help
Elevate Communication is well placed to manage any issues or crises which arise.
Our senior team has more than 35 years’ experience providing advice on managing external threats and internal crises, working with media trainers, as well as social media and media monitoring services.
We specialise in asking the tough questions and managing issues before they become a crisis. Get in touch with us today at email@example.com to ensure your business reputation is protected.