Five steps to avoid an issue becoming a crisis
When a company is dealing with an issue, it’s often multi-faceted and dynamic. From effective communications, logistics and coordination, and basic operations — corporate issues can touch every corner of your organization.
It’s shocking how many companies underestimate the importance of developing a smart, strategic plan on how to deal with an issue. As communications experts, our role is to support the company through the entire process, with effective guidance. We listen and respond appropriately to the need. The key word here is appropriately.
One of the biggest challenges companies are facing is rising pressure to respond instantly to any issue or story on social media. While transparency is vital and important for organizations, so is taking the time to confirm and verify facts, and comment when it’s the right moment and with the appropriate messaging.
Using the example of a potential company takeover by a larger competitor, the following five steps will ensure an issue doesn’t become a crisis. The goal throughout this process is to manage the reputation of the company as it pertains to both employees and the public.
Environmental scan - Companies should be proactively conducting consistent environmental scans which include reading and listening to online conversations, disseminating media coverage and customer feedback as it pertains to their business interests as it will identify any potential issues that may arise.
During this phase, communications professionals will be able to discern key discussion points around a pending takeover and plan accordingly. Understanding the different needs for both internal and external stakeholders will allow for seamless message development at each phase of a takeover.
Develop and follow a plan - As noted above, a solid strategic plan is imperative. By having a consistent and integrated process to follow, developing key messages and a media relations strategy is much more efficient during times of company transition. Ideally a full scope communications plan would be in place well in advance of any issue. If not, this component should be completed as soon as the issue arises before moving on to tactics.
As communicators, our role is to provide expert guidance and recommendations to company executives that best protect the company brand and reputation. By following a plan with clear goals, objectives and key messages it creates trust which allows the communicator to lead the process instead of it being dictated to them by others. If that happens, a simple issue of a company takeover can quickly spiral into a crisis and that is much more difficult to manage.
Establish a position - This is strictly a position on what the company will share about the issue and how it will be presented to the public, while also indicating the company spokesperson.
In the instance of a company takeover, a position would include an initial statement of procedure (ie: how and when the takeover would happen, status of current operations and any potential changes to that status), key timeline of next steps such as shareholder or board approval, a scheduled news conference and any potential public service disruptions.
Initiate key tactics - An action plan would be part of the overall strategic plan and this phase is when those actions are implemented. During a company takeover it is imperative that internal stakeholders are informed of all takeover components before they are made public.
Employees can be the biggest advocates for change if they are part of the process. If employees and other internal stakeholders are informed of company decisions through the media or social media channels, the company is at risk of detrimental public outrage.
During a takeover, it is important to initiate and lead the message. By creating consistent, multi-purpose content a company can stay ahead of any potential negative feedback. By writing key messages that can be used as employee bulletins, online blogs and social media posts, the company can have an efficient roll out of pertinent tactics.
Another component in maintaining message control is having a solid media relations plan that would include news releases, interviews and a scheduled news conference. A news conference allows company spokespeople an opportunity to issue prepared statements and address media questions at one time, that allows the issue to dominate the daily news cycle instead of it being dribbled out over several days. It’s also easier to schedule company executives for one date on the calendar, opposed to several.
If there is extensive “chatter” on social media before there are key facts and messages to share, consider a holding statement to acknowledge the conversation and assure the community you will provide updates as soon as possible.
5. Monitor and evaluate - This last step is one that is often overlooked, but it is the most important. Once the actions have been initiated it’s time to watch how the response it is being received (both internally and externally) and if changes need to be made to messaging or process.
In the digital age, conversations can quickly escalate and if the company isn’t paying attention to their tactics it will spiral but it does make it easier to change and adapt tactics as required.
Issues management is an area of communications that is often overlooked until a company finds itself swallowed up in a fast-moving process. Keep an issue from becoming a crisis through advance planning. Awareness of potential issues and plans for dealing with them allows for a stronger, smoother process when you’re in the weeds. And handling an issue well can not only protect your reputation, but also enhance it and set your company up as a leader in the community.