Public relations gurus have made fortunes guiding companies through crises. From a product recall to a public-safety concern, there will never be a more important time for you and your business than in the midst of an emergency. A well-managed crisis can mitigate or eliminate the amount of damage done to a business. A poorly handled crisis can doom a company forever.
Here are five tips for small-business owners for handling a crisis successfully.
1. Get prepared before a crisis happens. Get a plan together before there’s ever a need for a crisis public relations plan. Gather phone numbers, designate a company spokesperson, and decide who would be responsible for various aspects of any emergency, recommends Marc Davis in the article, “Crisis Management Strategies for Business Owners.”1 There should only be one person designated to speak to the media to avoid confusion and to avoid misinformation getting out there.
Who is the attorney for your business? Who would have access to legal documents and other critical information if an emergency arose in the middle of the night or while you were on vacation?
Whatever arrangements you make, be sure your entire organization is clear on what needs to happen if a crisis—such as a crime, natural disaster, or technological failure—arises.
2. Honesty and transparency count. No matter the nature of the crisis, get all the facts and make them available to any interested parties. The longer you or anyone from your company sit on pertinent information and the longer you hide that a problem exists, the worse you and your company will look. And, it should go without saying, but honesty isn’t just the best policy—it’s the only policy. Any suggestion of dishonesty could doom the entire company. No one can stand a liar.
Crisis PR consultant Jonathan Bernstein wrote that it’s important to remember the “Three C’s of Credibility: Compassion, Competence, and Confidence.”2
3. Anticipate questions. After a crisis, you’re likely to get flooded with questions from everywhere including the media, your customers, and possibly even police or other authorities. Get those answers together and draft a press release explaining exactly what you know and even what you don’t know yet, according to the article, “Five Tips to Help Small Business Handle Crisis PR.”3
It’s also critical to release information as soon as it’s available to avoid giving the impression that you’re hiding anything. Meet any challenges head on and be proactive about providing information. Being proactive doesn’t mean engaging in guesses and gossip, however. Make sure you get the facts and only provide confirmed information to the public.
4. Keep employees informed. In the midst of a crisis, it can be easy to forget to communicate with your employees. Reassure them that the problem is being handled and that someone is taking charge of the situation. It’s also critical to impress upon each and every employee that she is not to talk to any member of the media, according to the UnderstandingMarketing.com article.3 Even the most off-the-cuff and innocent comments can create big problems in the midst of a crisis.
5. Know when and how to say sorry. Even the most valid of excuses for any accident or mishap is generally not well-received by the public. If your company is at fault, just admit it and say you’re sorry. You might find it helpful to read Richard S. Levick’s article on “The Art of the Mea Culpa.”4
Consult with your attorney about any liability issues and as soon as possible apologize, do everything you can to set things right, and move on. Whether you have to refund customers’ money, recall a product, or make a public statement, it’s far better to ask for forgiveness than give the impression that you either don’t care about the issue or don’t want to admit when you’re wrong. Be generous with your customers and the public, and they’ll be generous in return.
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