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How prepared are you? The four pivotal stages of crisis management

Facing empty chairs
Written by
Nancy Arab

Nancy Arab

Consider your favourite brand. You may think that nothing could harm it because it is a multinational corporation, has a strong brand identity, or commands a loyal following. But in today’s world of consumer cynicism (outlined in detail in our Bold Thinking Report), no one is immune to the reputational damage an unanswered incident or allegation can present.

It can be a single, high-profile event. It can be a thousand small cuts that, left unattended, create a gaping hole in the brand or reputational fabric. It could range from treating customers as numbers, to creating a complex user experience that impedes interaction, to a full-out emergency incident that shakes supporter confidence. In today’s world, reputation or brand management isn’t about awareness or familiarity; it’s about maintaining a platform of trust and legitimacy. It takes time and energy to establish a strong reputation, but it’s is an integral shield in a crisis. For every cut or dent you take to your reputational armor, it takes 6-8 (or more!) experiences of quality just to hold your ground.

Today’s social media-driven culture has put citizens in control of communications channels. Social media allows consumers to be their own publishers, bringing negative experiences and grievances to the forefront and aggregating them. It enables community activism, which can further erode a brand or undermine a reputation. What once may have been ignored as an isolated issue now is perceived as consistent behaviour after multiple online commentators pile on.

And yet, some brands and reputations prevail, while others fall before the public’s perception of an unforgivable crisis. Great crisis management is no accident. It is anchored in rigorous preparation, training, and regular testing and evaluation. Like any maintenance program, it can’t be left to luck.

How strong is your reputational shield? Consider if your organization can navigate the following four critical stages. Right now.

  • Readiness
    • Can you list your organization’s potential crisis vulnerabilities?
    • Are your teams trained in the Incident Command System? Do they know their ICS roles?
    • Do you have processes and procedures in place to respond?
    • Do you engage in regular drills and simulations to test response?
  • Response
    • How quickly can you mobilize? Do you know where to get help?
    • Are your spokespeople trained and ready to respond quickly and credibly?
    • Is it clear who controls which communications distribution channels?
    • Do you have a rapid response approval process in place?
  • Reassurance
    • How will you maintain stakeholder trust when they have reason to doubt?
    • Do you know what messages you can deliver immediately?
    • What actions can you commit to in a timely manner to show that you are addressing the root of the crisis?
    • What clear next steps will be taken in the near, short, and long term as a result?
  • Recovery/Relaunch
    • What communications plan do you have in place to rebuild stakeholder confidence?
    • Do you have a plan for a smooth transition from crisis messaging back to recovery to business-as-usual?
    • Have you planned updates to show stakeholders you are following through with the commitments you made?

If you are unsure of the answers to some of these questions, it may be time to consider investing in crisis. While this may seem like strange advice, it’s at the heart of a proactive crisis management strategy. Organizations that best manage crisis and serious issues are the ones that invest wisely in being as prepared and ready as possible.

We have a seasoned team of veteran consultants that can help you ensure you’re prepared ahead of a crisis.

——— Nancy Arab is a former Partner at NATIONAL Public Relations