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Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Crisis? What Crisis? Crisis PR

I've noticed a lot of customer relationship problems being labelled "crisis" by digital experts.
Left unresolved, they undoubtedly have the potential to have a negative impact on the business. With good management, however, the business can often come out of such incidents with an enhanced reputation as a caring organisation, willing to listen and respond to customers, and to make changes based on their feedback.

But are they crises? 

The defining nature of a crisis is that it is unexpected, otherwise it is not a true crisis: just a management challenge.
Customer complaints are often fairly predictable if the basic processes involved in the marketing, sales, payment, supply and delivery plus aftercare pipelines are examined in detail.
As long as you have effective monitoring in place and act effectively and quickly, they become management issues.

Crisis PR

To be crisis resilient demands regular analysis and planning to create a heat-map of different levels of threats to help protect the business. Plus scenario practice sessions. That all sounds like big company stuff, but it doesn't have to be very complicated to make a difference. I know of not-for-profit organisations that have screeds of crisis planning material. And large companies that can crunch a likely scenario down into just a page or two of key issues and key messages. Which do you think would be more effective?

Why should you bother with crisis planning and practice? 

Crises don’t just happen to larger companies. For example, even a small cafe or food shop has the potential to kill vulnerable customers with food poisoning.
Or what if someone was badly injured or killed on your premises?
Making it up as you go along is not a great option in these circumstances, even for cool, calm, collected heads.
In these cases, the first priority is sympathy for the family and friends from your highest level.
But forward practice and preparation will help.

Be Prepared

You may not know the actual crisis coming down the line, but having good relevant background material and pictures to post, and help you answer enquiries, will help you retain your position as the main information source in your particular crisis.
You can also plan ahead to make sure that all the relevant people know at all times how to quickly cancel automated social media posts that are making your company look as if you are all oblivious to the problem. You can also plan how to quickly set up relevant dark tabs on social media.
For larger or higher profile organisations, having a dark site up your sleeve that can be quickly adapted to the particular crisis will help to avoid giving an uncaring "business as usual" impression. Know who authorises and effects that dark site deployment (and the back-up people if the key people are out of the office).
Plus how you are going to man the keyboard and phone 24/7 if need be to answer queries and issue updates? Who is authorised to speak? What instructions do you need to give to staff re social media and other communications channels? Do you have the right policies and guidelines in place? Sorting all that out during a crisis where seconds count is not an option.

Protecting Reputation

There's also a lot you can do on reputation management in advance. Joining the relevant trade or professional body (or other relevant qualifications provider), attaining the appropriate qualifications, maintaining any CPD requirements and going public on these activities shows you are staying up to date.
Obtaining relevant awards and kite-marks show that you are not just adopting industry standards: they show you are an externally endorsed outstanding example in your field. Awards and kitemarks demonstrate that you successfully seek out and adopt best practice to improve and certify working systems and practices. Making that activity known on your website and release boilerplate will help to defend the business reputation.
Of course an ill-judged remark on social media when handling a complaint will put a dent in the reputation, but it's also an opportunity to prove you do care, by getting on top of it.
And a crisis may seriously damage a business, but a reputable business with the kite-marks and awards will often get the benefit of the doubt - unless an independent investigation proves otherwise. But if best practice is encouraged and celebrated, that is less likely to happen, so awards and kite-marks are not just a self congratulation exercise. They are a useful reputation defence strategy.

No matter what you do, an actual crisis won't exactly match your practice scenarios.
In a true crisis a shedload of crisis experience will help, but in its absence, planning and preparing, plus good reputation management could well make the difference between saving a business - or not.

PR blog posted by Penny Haywood Calder at PHPR Ltd, Edinburgh, UK.


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