How to plan for and manage any crisis

  • 27 Jun 2022

Judith O'Leary of Represent gives the lowdown on effective crisis communication strategies

A serious woman stands a table talking to others who are seated

By Judith O’Leary, founder of Represent

No one is immune to making mistakes, and that goes for businesses too. At one point or another in their lifespan, most companies will experience a crisis – regardless of their profile. After all, who can forget Tesco’s horse meat scandal, or Pepsi’s poorly planned (and ultimately pulled) advert with model Kendall Jenner?

Whether it’s a national scandal or marketing blunder, crises have the potential to damage a business’ reputation and put its future at risk. Social media platforms have enabled consumers to publicly complain, and pile on, brands, so a crisis can swiftly escalate online, destroying a company’s credibility and standing in a single tweet.

However, while challenges are pretty much inevitable in business, not every company error makes headlines. Why? A carefully executed crisis communications strategy prevents a mistake from escalating into a full-scale catastrophe. Here’s how to go about it:

Establish a crisis team

Every small business should have a crisis communications team to plan and manage potential crises. This may include your comms specialist and members of the senior leadership team.

Within this group there should be individuals responsible for researching and collating information on the situation, and a spokesperson to act as the face of the company during this difficult period.

Everybody in this team should have in-depth knowledge about the business, the authority to make decisions and the ability to think fast when needed.

Fail to prepare, prepare to fail

It’s all too common for businesses to only prioritise crisis communications when a crisis is already occurring. Failure to prepare for challenging circumstances often leads to reactionary responses and misjudged solutions, further adding to the problem in question.

To prevent this, ensure your crisis team meets regularly to review potential crises and create a plan for managing risks. It’s crucial to prepare for all possibilities and eventualities, as this will allow the business to manage a crisis more efficiently and reduce harm to its reputation.

Consider your stakeholders

A company crisis will likely implicate your stakeholders, and therefore they should be considered in your crisis communications strategy. Consider who your stakeholders are, how they will be affected by the problems in your business, and what you need to do to address their concerns. Again, planning is vital here as successful recovery from a crisis often depends on strong stakeholder communications.



Train your leadership team

More often than not, a member of the leadership team will act as the business’ spokesperson in times of turmoil. This individual will be responsible for fielding tough questions from the press, putting out public statements and carrying out interviews.

Given the significance of their position, the spokesperson should receive advanced media training and interview practice. Doing so will give them the skills and confidence to carry out an interview and stick to the agreed messaging.

Be clear and consistent

Clarity is vital when communicating during a crisis. Your messaging needs to be consistent across all channels and throughout the employees in the company.

An honest, fact-driven approach, with a clear statement on how you are going to address the issue at hand, will enable you to manage the crisis smoothly and minimise concern among stakeholders.

The ability to overcome a crisis depends on thorough planning and a considered communications strategy. With this in place, small businesses can manage challenges with dexterity and confidence.

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