Guide to Risk and Crisis Management

Nov 16, 2021

You are and always will be vulnerable to crises. Whilst you cannot escape the possibility of the unthinkable happening, you can plan and prepare for if/when a crisis occurs. By completing thorough preparation, you can help protect your brand's precious reputation and, potentially, even turn a negative into a positive. Proper risk and crisis management is, therefore, crucial to your business.

Here is our guide to handling risk and crisis:

 

Preparation 

Firstly, you should establish your crisis management team. This team will assume responsibility for preparing and handling crises and will often be led by the CEO or other senior figures within the company. This senior figure should be supported by a team that together possesses all the skills needed - common team members include public relations experts, legal counsel and other specialists. If you lack suitable advisors you should employ the services of external consultants and agencies.  

Next, you should conduct a vulnerability audit. This audit will help you anticipate potential crises and prepare your crisis communications plan. As a team, you should brainstorm potential crises. Common crises include data breaches, negative press or reviews, employee scandals, failed events, and badly planned marketing campaigns. By completing this audit you will see that some of these potential situations are preventable by adapting your approach of operation. Whilst not all risks can be eliminated, they can be minimised.

After this, you should look at putting into practice continuous sentiment analysis. Sentiment analysis or social listening can help you establish the public's current perception of you. By constantly monitoring sentiment metrics you can see macro negative shifts, which will be a valuable warning something has gone amiss. Useful sentiment analysis tools include Google Alerts, Talkwalker, Lexalytics, and Hootsuite. Social media has increased the risk of large scale crises occurring, but you can also use it to your strength.

One of the best ways to avoid a crisis is by creating a series of guidelines or rules for your employees to abide by. These guidelines may deal with social media, press releases, interviews and your employee's communications outside of work. An example of a rule for social media posts is that all content is reviewed and proofed by at least two other staff members. 

Unfortunately, whilst the risk of crises occurring can be minimised it can not be eradicated. So, you need to prepare a crisis management plan. This plan will help structure your response to a crisis. It needs to contain a checklist and preferably a step-by-step explanation of what needs to be done. This plan also needs to contain contact details of relevant internal and external people who can support the crisis response. The plan also needs templates for draft messages for all forms of media - social media, press releases etc.  

Perhaps the most important draft messages you should craft are holding statements. One of the most common mistakes during a crisis is to act without full knowledge of the situation. Holding statements give you valuable time so you can assess the situation and respond correctly. You should have a variety of holding statements for all the potential crises you identified in your vulnerability audit, and should continually update and revise these if needed.

The penultimate step in your crisis preparation is the identification and appointment of spokespeople. Your spokespeople must have the authority to complete the role, the correct core skills, and adequate training. A trained spokesperson will prevent you from falling afoul of incorrect media handling.

Lastly, your crisis management team should participate in role plays replicating a few potential crises you identified during your audit. These run-throughs need to be treated seriously and should put your team through their paces. Once the role-plays are over you should review the success and failures of your team's response, and revisit your original plan and make the necessary changes when needed.

 

Responding to a Crisis 

Crises are stressful and often painful to respond to. However, when a crisis eventually occurs you must not panic and allow your emotions to overwhelm you. Thorough preparation is the best tool to help you remain calm in the face of adversity.

Your first step is to assess the crisis and determine its severity. Once you establish this, you should release a holding statement. This will give you valuable time to gain the knowledge needed to greater assess and better respond to the situation. 

Your reaction time to crises can often determine the success of your response. Swift action can stop crises in their tracks before they grow into bigger issues. Plus, your stakeholders are likely to be more forgiving if they perceive you as actively trying to remedy the situation. The caveat to this rule is that acting quickly but without the full knowledge of what has happened (or without giving yourself enough time to implement your crisis management plan) will likely do more harm than good. 

In regard to developing your crisis communications, you should consider what branches of communication are available and what ones are most suitable. Social media, press releases, emails, and even phone calls are all options you will need to evaluate. You will also need to adapt your messaging for the different mediums. For example, the way you communicate on Twitter will be different to the way you communicate to key stakeholders at a board meeting. This is where your draft templates will come in handy!

Businesses will often attempt to distance themselves from blame in the aftermath of a crisis. Your reputation is likely to be seriously hit if you are seen as dodging culpability. So, you should always accept responsibility if you are at fault; you will be surprised at how forgiving people are when you are honest, authentic and sincere. You should also be open going forwards when conveying your solutions to the situation at hand and when setting out how you will prevent similar crises from occurring in the future. Whilst it may be tempting to make lofty promises in response to a crisis, you should avoid making commitments you cannot keep to - people will remember.

People will want clarity in the aftermath of a crisis. Common questions are: why did the crisis happen, what was done to prevent it, and what could have been done? It is your responsibility to provide answers and clarity, in both the short-term and long-term.

Finally, after the crisis has passed, you should evaluate what has happened and ask what can be learned. This analysis is vital for your improvement in handling future crises and the future of your business itself. This is because poor risk and crisis management can lead to legal issues, worsening brand reputation, stakeholder discontent and severe financial impact. 

 


"If you don't choose to do it in leadership time up front, you do it in crisis management time down the road."

Stephen R. Covey

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