No matter how long a company has been in business, the possibility of an unpredictable crisis occurring can be looming in the dusty forgotten corners of the office. If an organization is unprepared or rusty in handling a crisis situation, one small mistake could lead to an irreparable disaster. As said by Warren Buffet “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”
The important thing is that companies are aware of the potential for a crisis and prepared to face it head on if one should occur. Protecting or building a brand name is much easier than attempting to rebuild reputation once it’s been damaged.
Over the years, the potential for a crisis has increased due to social media’s capability to share information globally in a matter of seconds. For example, in January of 2013, traces of horsemeat had been discovered by the Food Standards Agency in Ireland within Tesco’s brand burgers. Not even an hour after the news broke out, Tesco was able to upload and tweet out a statement to the world in regards to the discovery and begin damage control. Just as fast as news travels, brands must be prepared to respond. More than before, corporate affairs managers must be able to predict potential disastrous situations, devise strategic plans to both avoid a crisis when possible, and also prepare a highly trained team to handle any potential crisis should one occur.
How corporate affairs can prepare to handle a crisis
According to Portland Communications, “nearly half (45%) of senior executives within British companies believe that their companies are unprepared for this.” The role of the corporate affairs leader is to make sure that their company is not included in that 45 percent, whether in the UK or elsewhere. The best way to avoid a crisis is to anticipate one before it happens. For example, when the Ebola Virus first came about in the U.S., the Emergency Nurses Association (ENA) quickly developed a communications plan to respond to the potential crisis.
The strategy paid special attention to the safety of both their patients and the community. As the issue grew, ENA was already equipped to handle the situation. Being proactive and preparing for a crisis is corporate affair’s best defense to protecting their company from a potentially damaging situation. Crisis anticipation includes building a strategic plan for any foreseeable obstacle that may occur. That means examining pre-crisis situations, crisis response, and post-crisis procedures. It also includes establishing strong notification and monitoring systems in order to locate a crisis as it happens. Intelligence research is essential for both crisis anticipation and crisis response; making it the keystone to protecting an organization from a crisis in the first place. When a crisis does occur it is important to act fast, but if a company is not aware of a crisis when it happens how will they be able to handle it properly?
How corporate affairs can build both their team and their organization’s capacity to react to a crisis
Building a team of trained individuals within an organization to handle crises situations will eliminate the sense of chaos and confusion when a crisis actually occurs. Rather than waiting for a situation in which everyone is scrambling, corporate affairs officers must establish not only their role, but the role of each member of their crisis team. A good example of a crisis response situation gone bad was when Paula Deen, an American celebrity chef, was accused of using racially slandering language. Rather than being transparent and admitting to making racial jokes and accepting the consequences, Deen denied the accusation. Throughout her case, the unprepared Deen, continued to make simple PR mistakes that could have been avoided is properly prepped.
The role of other crisis team members is to take the lead on specialized situations. A crisis can occur in many areas within a company. There may be issues on social media, a default in a product or service, a injury or health related issue regarding an employee, or an interference with production. This is why it is important to have a specialist for each and every crisis situation that may occur.
Another useful tool is to establish early on who lead the team through a complicated situation. In an ideal situation, the CEO of a company will take the lead on handling the crisis team, as well as take the role of the spokesperson for the company; however, not without the help of the firm’s top corporate affairs professional and legal counsel by their side. The role of the corporate affairs officer is to guide the team leader through the situation and to advise them in order to avoid any further damage.
How corporate affairs can learn from their mistakes
The final step of a corporate affairs leader is to see that a proper post-crisis analysis is performed. Whether the brand feels that the day was saved or the crisis response tactics were a complete disaster, there is always room to learn from past mistakes. Establishing post-crisis procedures will help corporate affairs leaders and their team of trained professionals build more comprehensive crisis response plans for the future.
The process of training a powerful crisis team is never over, practicing and intelligence gathering is an ongoing process that will continue to strengthen the crisis barrier, and help prevent the most damaging situations.