What is crisis management?
Crisis management is defined as a series of steps performed by an organization to deal with a catastrophic event. A crisis disrupts business operations, threatens to harm people, damages your reputation, and negatively impacts your finances.
To effectively manage any crisis, you’ll need a comprehensive process that not all public relations firms are fully equipped to handle. Many crisis management companies are communication experts with backgrounds in public relations, social media, and reputation marketing.
While those strategies alone may have worked in the past, they won’t be enough in 2019 and beyond. Firms must also have an extensive understanding of SEO principles to manage a crisis and reduce its impact on your online reputation.
Crisis management planning begins long before an issue arises. It can be tempting to put off risk management when things are going well. However, inadequate preparation can have serious operational, legal, and public relations consequences.
- Unprepared stakeholders are more likely to make poor decisions.
- Businesses might be seen as inept for issuing inaccurate or conflicting statements.
- Failing to prepare may increase recovery time.
Examples of crises
In the professional world, anything that could negatively influence your business’s reputation or bottom line constitutes a crisis. Some worst-case scenarios include product recalls, stolen data, false accusations, or the loss of a key higher-up. Any of these situations could prove to be catastrophic or even fatal to your company name and/or earnings.
Some emergencies, like natural disasters, terrorist attacks or a global financial crisis, are unavoidable and probably won’t damage your corporate reputation if properly handled. Preventable crises that result from an oversight or a poor decision, however, could drag your name through the mud. For that reason, it’s imperative to formulate a crisis response strategy should the need ever arise.
Even bad reviews can be seen as a crisis if they snowball out of control. We’ve written extensively about how to handle customer complaints and negative reviews:
Johnson & Johnson crisis response
People remember how a company managed a crisis years after an emergency has ended. Johnson & Johnson, for example, was considered a hero for how it handled a Tylenol recall during the 1980s. The company turned around a crisis situation in which seven people were killed due to cyanide-laced Tylenol.
J&J acted quickly to recall all Tylenol capsules in circulation and worked with FDA officials to create new tamper-proof packaging. As a result, media coverage regarding the event is still positive nearly four decades later.
How to manage a crisis
A professional response coupled with smart brand management and ORM can significantly reduce the impact of a crisis.
In the next few sections, I’ll guide you through the complete crisis management process.
Pre-crisis (crisis prevention)
The most vital stage of your crisis plan occurs before problem exists. During this phase, business owners should identify and train stakeholders, assess vulnerabilities, and draft and test a response plan. This is also an excellent time to identify or hire a crisis manager.
Of course, the best way to manage a crisis is to avoid one in the first place. However, mistakes and inescapable calamities happen. Therefore, it’s important to anticipate a crisis and take precautionary measures. Preparing in advance is also a powerful way to protect your reputation.
Assemble a professional crisis management team
Your team should be led by your CEO and staffed with senior executives, department leadership, legal council, and your head of public relations. Include individuals from all company disciplines and regions to properly assess your vulnerabilities. It’s easier to slim down your crisis management team later than to add new members in the middle of the process.
Assess your weaknesses
The first step toward drafting a response plan is to find your weak points. Hold a brainstorm with your crisis team and list anything that could harm your company. By including employees across all departments, you’ll lower your risk of missing something critical.
Draft a crisis management plan
Crisis management should be a core component of your business plan, so avoid the temptation to use a generic crisis response template. It’s important to customize your own business continuity plan based on the results of your weaknesses audit. Plans tailored to other companies may be ineffective or even harmful to your business.
When you draft your work plan, set clear goals first. Then, work backwards to to construct the steps.
At a minimum, your crisis plan should address the following:
- Internal and external stakeholders
- Primary spokespeople for each communication channel
- Communication infrastructure and redundancies
- Decision-making chain of command
- Access to emergency funds
- Holding statements
- Contingency plans
Create a crisis communications plan
First of all, you’ll need to select the right spokesperson. This individual will be the face of your company during a crisis situation. Your spokesperson must be able to handle all types of communication and perform well under pressure.
While it’s important for CEOs to be visible during a crisis, not all executives excel in public relations roles. Your spokesperson must be comfortable with live or on-camera interviews and written statements. Most importantly, this individual must understand the difference between PR and crisis communication.
Your communication team should also draft a united holding statement for the media. Decide on the framework and get approval from your legal team ahead of time. As a result, you’ll greatly improve your disaster recovery speed.
Start brand monitoring
Brand monitoring enables you to quickly catch negative content and address criticism before it goes viral. Google Alerts is an essential tool for keeping up with online mentions, and it’s free to use! Don’t limit yourself to only receiving notifications for your company’s name.Cast a wider net by setting alerts for trademarks and CEOs as well. Here’s a list of reputation monitoring tools you can use right now.
Social monitoring is also a critical component of most crisis management strategies. While Google Alerts is excellent for warning you about negative content, your customers may post criticism on social networks that could go undetected. Many social media monitoring tools are free, but there are also plenty of white glove services available if you have room in your budget.
You should also establish a social media team in the event of a crisis that can track brand mentions. It’s important that they’re able to respond professionally and appropriately, and to post strategically in order to minimize the effects of the negative news cycle.
During the crisis
When a crisis breaks, most of your team’s activities will fall into two broad areas: resolving problems that led to the situation and communicating internally and externally about the actions you’re taking.
Assign one team to the task of identifying the root causes of the problem and fixing them. Problems can include everything from flawed processes to security breaches or even sabotage. Therefore leadership must dig beneath the surface to address underlying policies and prevent similar issues in the future.
Your resolution team should include financial and legal executives to help determine an appropriate means of reparation for victims.
Your crisis communication team should be diverse enough to gather and understand a wide variety of data. Some audiences will require in-depth information regarding technical details, while others will only need high-level executive summaries. Train multiple sets of individuals as potential spokespeople to handle a wide variety of issues.
Many employees may have gone through training and understand your crisis communications plan. However, it’s critical to elect one spokesperson to act as the voice of your brand. Designating a single point of contact will ensure consistent internal and external crisis management messaging.
You will also need to keep all of your employees, customers, and suppliers in the loop throughout this process. Maintain regular correspondence and keep them updated on any new developments to retain some control over the situation. You don’t want them to receive any news from outside sources before first hearing about it directly from you. Proper crisis communication will preserve their trust in you and keep a lid on rumors.
How a crisis affects your business
An organization deals with many types of crises outside of their control. Natural disasters such as earthquakes and oil spills or industrial accidents can be impossible to prevent, yet other potential crises may be directly caused by your company or employees. An improperly planned tweet or misstatement can easily erupt into a social media crisis. While there are an infinite number of scenarios, businesses are primarily impacted in three ways:
1. Reputation damage
The news cycle during a PR crisis can corrode your brand’s image with constant negative press. Damaging stories flood traditional media like print, television, and radio. Furthermore, digital content from websites and social media continues to tie your brand to the crisis. Your company’s mistakes, actions, and inactions will be criticized and broadcast around the globe, forcing you to take action by removing articles from Google as they spring up.
The ongoing media attention could cause negative articles to remain in Google search results long after the crisis has ended. Only a targeted reputation management strategy can effectively remove content from Google search.
2. Business operations disruption
Your business continuity plan may require you to pull people from several departments. Vital business functions like customer service and production could be at risk when teams are short-staffed.
Elevated work stress and a poor reputation may increase employee turnover and hiring costs. Furthermore, operations may be hindered when chief executives leave the company on short notice.
3. Revenue loss
Constant negative media attention will bury positive content in your search engine results. This can damage your reputation and drive away potential customers. People may also have a difficult time finding your website and social media properties if they aren’t on page one. Reputational risk combined with reduced website traffic leads to lost revenue.
See how much a bad company reputation can cost.
The final step of crisis control is to repair your online reputation. Your search results may be riddled with negative articles that don’t reflect your company or employees. It’s essential to expand and strengthen your digital footprint by investing in SEO-driven online reputation management services.
Most crisis management firms focus on the logistics of resolving an issue. But they often lack the expertise to fix your search results. Our corporate reputation management solution mitigates the damage to your digital image during a crisis. Then, we’ll restore and strengthen your brand’s search results through our reputation recovery process.
Reputation Management Resources
How to Choose the Best ORM Services and Companies
Everything you need to know to choose the best ORM firm.
How to Suppress Negative Search Results in Google
Find out how to bury negative search results in Google
CEO Reputation Management Guide
Find out how CEO reputation impacts corporate reputation.