Prevention, Preparedness, Planning, and Practice

Author: Claire Riggs, Managing Partner

It was my first week working in the petrochemical industry, and already I was facing my first crisis situation. This was the late 1990s. I’d recently completed my Master of Arts degree in Public Relations, and here I was, stepping into a Holiday Inn conference room filled with safety, environmental, emergency response and communication personnel from 17 companies.

Thankfully, this was a crisis planning meeting, not one of those “what do we do now” situations that too many organizations let themselves fall into. I learned that day that this industry knows the wisdom of pooling resources and collaborating on a joint communication plan. We were here to find the best ways to share our risk management plans and prepare for the worst-case scenarios when dealing with the public.

Not knowing the industry and its language, the full scope of its community relations, or how best to communicate with a concerned public in times of crisis, I had a lot to learn that day about crisis management and crisis communication. With the patient assistance of these professionals, I was better prepared, my company was prepared, and every organization represented in that room was prepared to communicate more effectively with the public when and if a crisis were to appear.

Why Small Businesses and Organizations Need a Crisis Management Plan

As Sammi Caramela points out in Business News Daily, “Bad PR is likely at some point, but how your company responds can determine how detrimental the impact becomes.” Whether you’re an industry behemoth or a storefront start-up, it’s important to build trusting relationships with your employees, clients, customers, partners, suppliers, and your community.

Follow the 4 Ps

You also need to understand how to keep their trust if—or more likely when—a communication crisis hits. In these days of instant news from any source, legitimate or fake, you can’t control what gets reported, but you can be prepared by following these four Ps of crisis management.

  1. Prevention: Start with building better relationships. Seek out, meet, and learn from your employees, customers, and community. Share information about your purpose, processes, and policies. Just act right! You can’t prevent someone from misinterpreting your actions, but don’t give people a reason to call you out.
  2. Preparedness: Stuff happens, we know. The labor shortage impacting the restaurant and travel industry is a clear reminder that we can’t prepare for everything. But we can and should prepare for what to do when an event that is out of your control results in negative social media posts from disgruntled customers. Brainstorm crisis scenarios and prepare your response strategies.
  3. Planning: A study of how small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) in Sweden managed during the initial phase of the Covid crisis found that “Among participating companies in this study, 72% stated that they did not have any form of continuity/crisis plan before the outbreak of the pandemic, 13% stated that they did have a plan but that it was not updated regularly, while 14% reported they had a regularly updated continuity/crisis plan before the outbreak of the pandemic.” When you have plans in place for business continuity/crisis communication, it’s easier to keep calm in the storm. In their conclusions, the authors of the SMB study observed, “relationships are difficult to build during a crisis; rather, they require continuous work to build the type of trust upon which successful crisis management is based.” That’s the core of crisis planning: take action now before you’re beset by crisis.
  4. Practice: As we approach Fire Prevention Week (October 9 -15), we’ll be reminded to test our fire alarms and to ensure we have our fire escape routes mapped out. Having the plans in place is just the start. These need to be practiced routinely and refined as changes happen in your surroundings. Same with your crisis communication plans.

You Can’t Avoid a Communication Crisis But You Can Mind Your Ps

Life is unpredictable. Social media, while beneficial to brand awareness and brand loyalty, also makes us more vulnerable to communication fires. You may not be able to avoid a crisis, but you can give yourself a better chance of surviving by focusing now on proactive relationship building, prevention, preparation, planning and practice. Here’s to minding your Ps!