There is nothing like a business crisis to inflict long-term harm to your company’s reputation.  And, whether that crisis is slow or fast moving, the best plan is an action plan.  The best approach is to have a plan in place before you need it so that when the crisis happens you and your company can react quickly.

What encompasses a crisis, in communications terms, is any event that provides intense, negative social and media coverage and interferes with the normal activities of your business.

To prepare for a crisis, develop a detailed communication plan with a team assigned to implement the plan.  With this type of planning, your organization will be able to respond more quickly to a crisis, take some immediate action to control the message and start working to regain the consumer’s trust.

Key plan components include:

An assigned crisis communications team with specific roles and responsibilities outlined for crisis implementation.  During the crisis, this team has the responsibility for making decisions and overseeing communication. In the plan document, include each individual’s name, title, home phone, cell phone and other pertinent contact information. Be sure to have this team’s planning calendar readily available so contacting them wherever they are will be easier.
Identify and prepare a specific spokesperson as well as a second and third in command.  Back up spokespeople are important. This will allow a spokesperson even if the primary person is out of town, unavailable or involved in the crisis.  Select and then train each designated person and don’t make your crisis the first time this person works or talks to the media. Many public relations firm offer media training which could prove to be a good investment.

Develop processes What is the chain of command in a crisis?  Who and what is the approval process? What are the procedures? This is the “heart” of the plan and will take some time to develop and some forethought so that when time is of the essence your organization can be as prepared.

A media strategy including off and online and particularly your social media component. Crisis communication is very different today with the addition of social media and the ability for anyone to record video, take photos and influence the situation with very little information.  Leverage communication both on and off line. When appropriate, use twitter, Facebook or other means to communication the appropriate message.

Practice, practice and practice   A practice strategy will allow you to see the holes in your plan and take care of those now when time allows. The more preparation you can do ahead of time, the quicker you’ll be able to respond if a crisis does strike. Conduct crisis “drills” to get the team used to the process.  Conduct a full on practice session so that in time of crisis the process is engrained and comes more naturally to the team.

Planning won’t solve or encompass all the possibilities in time of crisis but it is the best and only way to be as prepared as possible.