I was called by BCBusiness magazine writer, Kristen Hilderman, with the question: Does every company need to know how to communicate in a crisis?
The short answer is yes. Any company or organization can face a crisis requiring them to work with the speed of social media to protect their reputation. Once a worst case scenario hits, the scramble is on to do and say the right things.
This subject is extremely topical because Vancouver’s two recent SkyTrain shutdowns, in the same week, were aggravated by poor communication with many hapless commuters trapped on trains.
This followed Lululemon founder, Chip Wilson, creating his own crisis by implying women who require larger sizes shouldn’t buy the company’s yoga tights.
He got publicity alright. But it was the wrong kind. The online petition fell just short of calling for a complete boycott of Lululemon stores and their products.
Laterally speaking, it was the Mount Polley mine tailings pond dam failure releasing that brought crisis communications to the forefront. The flood of 10 million cubic metres of waste water, plus more than four million cubic metres of sediment flowing through a failed tailings pond dam, created its own flood of public outcry and media questions.
Imperial Metals seemed slow off the mark — they communicated with a news release on their website. That quickly got stale and nobody in the head office was available to respond to media questions.
So what are best practices in these situations? Have a crisis communications plan. Ensure that it is practical and that it works. Run a crisis simulation so you can find and resolve any glitches.
That plan should be a quick-response blueprint for anything that might imperil your organization’s reputation.
Make sure the plan is short and workable. Templates for holding statements, fact sheets, topics and key messages, news releases, media advisories, as well as a resume of predictable questions and recommended answers, should be appendices. Crisis communicators should be able to use the templates to cut and paste to meet current needs.
Select key spokespeople and put them through media training. There is a well vetted methodology for managing crisis communications by communicating effectively with media and stakeholders.
With all that in place, issues and crisis management is still very challenging, as those who have been dealing with recent events know all too well. But there is a way through and preparation is everything.
It will be time and money well spent.