Over the past year, the demand for our crisis communications services has been on a considerable rise. Not surprisingly either. With the advances in technology and associated ability to convey issues of consequence through social media, the court of public opinion has become both a ruthless judge and jury within minutes of many issues, grievances and disasters both real and perceived.
If left unattended, perception will always outflank reality and most companies have very little time to respond to a crisis. Every day that passes by without acting to resolve a crisis will negatively impact your brand and often results in significant losses. More often than not the public trust is weakened and, in some cases, irreparable. Sadly, we are seeing these situations in social and earned media on a regular basis.
Most glaring is the amount of time required for companies to respond to a perceived crisis. It is inexcusable. There is no longer room for “no comment” or “next day” strategies. Today, the public expects an immediate response. Failure to do so is usually dealt with a swift blow to the company’s brand.
Given this regular occurrence, more companies are now beginning to evaluate their crisis management plan preparedness for such an event. Moreover, shareholders of publicly traded companies are asking management and board members alike if such plans exist. And yet in a recent Nasdaq poll close to 50% of organizations do not have a crisis communications plan and only 50% felt their companies were “adequately prepared to manage crises effectively” exposing them to serious risk.
While this number is staggering, risk exposure rises even further when one considers the last time many of these companies with a plan in place have had it updated, including vulnerability audits and stress tests to ensure crises readiness.
The harsh reality is that if your company hasn’t updated their plan annually or are not regularly practicing scenarios they are invariably exposed to a wide variety of issues. If you are completely lacking a comprehensive crisis communication management strategy, your level of risk has grown exponentially.
Recently, newer issues have appeared more frequently in the media and public domain and it is probably worthwhile to re-examine the issues that you may be up against. Some of the more frequent issues include:
What can you do to avoid these potential problems?
To begin with, I recommend having an internal team meeting to determine whether or not your company has a current plan in place, and if you do, to carefully evaluate if the plan is sufficient. If there is even the slightest hesitation, bring in an outside expert to review and augment. You may find yourself in the middle of an exercise that requires considerable renovations to your existing plan. If your organization is completely without a strategy you should move quickly to have one built. This is not an exercise that should be taken lightly or handed to someone inexperienced. Each crisis communications management strategy is unique to each company and while many follow fundamentals, the end strategy can often take between two and three months to assemble.
What does it cost to hire an outside expert?
No two plans are alike and therefore careful consideration should be given to the experience and size of undertaking you may be embarking upon. There is no set cost equation or template plan but consider the following to be some numbers to give you a barometer of costs likely to be incurred.
Keep in mind the scope of your costs will be largely dependent upon the size of your organization, the amount of training involved, and the vulnerability audits and program adjustments required. At the end of the process you should have a manual, a crisis ready communications team and a good understanding of the possible scenarios you may experience and what to do when they happen.
The cost of not having a plan and reacting poorly to a situation can cost you millions and even billions of dollars within hours. At the end of the day, the money you spend now will be considerably less than the money you will have to spend without one.
The likelihood of a company crisis today is not a matter of “if” vs. “when”. Having a crisis communications management strategy in place will undoubtedly help you mitigate your losses and protect your brand.
Hugh Mansfield (firstname.lastname@example.org) has over 25 years of crisis communications management experience. Hugh has handled some landmark cases including data theft, privacy, FDA, FTC and State Attorney investigations, Auditor General enquiries, filing issues with SEC, NASDAQ and TSX, along with major labor disputes, public health and safety, consumer product recalls, and numerous environmental disasters.