Crisis Communications … an Insurance Policy for Your Hard-Earned Brand Credibility

by Megan Shroy

- Originally published by ColumbusAMA.org

You are a brand marketer, and your company’s marketing strategy is really falling into place. You’ve been working for months on a new campaign and your hard work is paying off. Sales are up. Engagement on your website and social media are climbing. All around, there is positive buzz about your brand.

Then the unthinkable happens. You wake up one morning to find a video of a customer’s unpleasant experience has gone viral. Or there are reports of a listeria outbreak in your kitchen. Or an employee has come forward with reports of sexual harassment or fraud.

No matter what industry you are in, a crisis can happen.

Oftentimes crisis situations can be prevented. But other times, a crisis is like a car crash: you’re simply driving along, paying attention to the road when someone hits you out of nowhere.

That is when the need for a crisis communications plan comes into play. Think of crisis communication planning like insurance—it can seem daunting to invest in when you know you’re doing all the right things and don’t think a crisis can happen. But, when you do have that inevitable car crash, you’ll be glad to have the “insurance policy” to ensure all your hard-earned brand credibility and marketing efforts don’t get totaled. After all, your brand’s reputation is one of your biggest assets.

Like an insurance plan, putting together a crisis communications plan is much easier to do ahead of time, instead of when you are trying to keep up with an unfolding crisis situation.

Here are some key elements every crisis communications plan should include:

Predetermined crisis team
It’s important to identify the people who will be part of the crisis response team. Typically, this team includes a crisis team leader, someone who can be the spokesperson, legal representation and coordinators for major business units and other stakeholders (clients, families, etc.).

Potential crisis scenarios and key messages
There’s no way you can imagine every potential crisis scenario, but crisis planning is a good time to talk about some potential crisis that could likely impact your business. What are the things that keep you and your company leaders up at night? Once you think of a few, create a plan of action, including key messages and responses so you have a head-start and aren’t creating from scratch in the heat of a crisis.

Social media scenarios and response plans
Increasingly, there are crisis situations that play out solely on social media. A holiday-themed marketing message gone wrong. A customer photo or rant that goes viral. We’ve all seen them and cringed. If that happens to you, it’s important to have a plan to acknowledge the issue, respond to customer questions/comments and take the conversation offline. You should also have a list of keywords and hashtags to monitor so you can see what people are saying about your brand.

Media relations plans and procedures
Having a plan for proactively responding to the media in a crisis is essential. This is not the time to keep the media waiting while you develop your response. Make sure your crisis plan has step-by-step guidelines for responding to the media quickly. You should also make sure the entire company knows who the appointed spokesperson is, and can pass along the contact information in case they receive calls from members of the media.

Crisis communications … it’s not the sexiest part of marketing, but if and when a crisis happens for your brand, you will be glad you have an “insurance plan” in place to help you protect that hard-earned brand equity and reputation.