These days, unless you try to mitigate the reputational impact, the best you can hope for is that your moment under the spotlight is displaced from page one of the search results page (SERP) by the next ‘juicy’ crisis as soon as possible.
The problem of course is that the internet doesn’t forget and by the time you’ve been alerted to an article appearing online, it will most likely have been syndicated across hundreds of online publications, some reputable and others less so. Incorrect facts are reproduced and after a few minutes, let alone hours, it is no longer sufficient to seek a correction at source. A redress of the situation will require a more sophisticated and coordinated approach.
How do you prepare for such eventualities though? Experience shows that many crises are not a surprise to everyone. Sadly, in many instances a crisis unfolds like a slow motion car crash. The effect of small inconsistencies in reporting or decision making over the course of months or years roll up into a major problem that will eventually find its way into the public domain, but hopefully not on your watch. The effect of internal politics, alignment of interest and trust all come into play, rarely with a positive outcome.
How can an external communications adviser help? Well, they can provide an independent opinion and act as a sounding board for the leadership. Understanding how a story might be reported by the media and others, provides a good start point for developing a contingency plan, whether that is as simple as setting out a framework for managing the external communications, or developing a detailed response to potential issues before they break. Of course, there is always the option of breaking the bad news on your own terms.
The input from an external advisor who isn’t emotionally or otherwise influenced by the issue, can be extremely valuable as you prepare a strategy that can be rolled out in minutes rather than hours or days. The better they understand the business and the sector, the more faith you can have in their ability to advise you.
In the heat of the moment while accusations fly, they can be working on mitigating the damage and ensuring essential information is communicated. While external stakeholders and investors in particular may appear shocked by the initial news, you can be sure they will be assessing how the company and board deal with the aftermath of the crisis. Who is saying what, does it all make sense, what measures are being put in place to solve the issue, how effective is the board. Beyond the headlines, people’s livelihoods are at stake, from the shop floor to the person watching at home who doesn’t even realise that they are exposed through their pension investment.
All of this considered, it is common knowledge that most plans rarely survive contact with the enemy, but to have had a plan to adapt and a crisis response process in place is a better place to be starting from than making it up from scratch. It doesn’t have to be an elaborate document running to several volumes. In some instances, your crisis plan could be as simple as a list of key decision makers, contact details and a dedicated conference call number.