Moving crisis prep up your ‘to do’ list

Helen Slater, Managing Director, Strata Communications

When it comes down to it, reputation is everything. So often, it’s a crisis that derails an organisation’s reputation. Sometimes, their reputation could be shaky beforehand and one issue becomes just one issue too many and escalates. Other times, a crisis hits like a bolt of lightning, fast and damaging.

Companies and their comms people put high stock in reputation yet too often, we get tied up in the everyday business of communications, and crisis preparedness is on the ‘to do’ list at some time, “if we can only get the whole management team together at one time, in one place, for more than an hour.”

A crucial part of crisis preparedness comes well before the training sessions, the desk-top exercises, or the media training. The first step is reputation risk assessment – what happens if …

Communications professionals know that often it’s management decisions (or lack of) leading to certain actions or inaction that initiates then exacerbates a crisis. We also know that how we communicate and respond can influence the outcome.  When we’ve set the scene well beforehand with reputation risk assessment, reviewed every month at the board and management tables, the level of awareness will be higher, the commitment stronger, to appropriate training and preparedness.

The most high-profile crisis in New Zealand lately has been the Fonterra botulism scare. Many commentators have focused on the media training, some on the apparent lack of crisis training. These were contributory factors. But like all crises, there will have been much more that contributed than is apparent to us as external observers.

Were the communications professionals kept up to speed and involved in all decisions? And was their advice heeded?

Experience shows that too often, we as communicators are not brought in at the right time, and that because for so many organisations, a crisis happens to someone else, when it hits, the damage is extreme. Reputation is impacted – in the Fonterra case, not just for that organisation, but other New Zealand companies and the country as a whole.

When we regularly verbalise and quantify the risk of a crisis impacting our reputation and we put a $ value on that damage, I’m quite sure much more attention will be paid to crisis training, and to the role we as communicators have in managing crises and protecting reputation.

Attend Helen Slater’s upcoming course;

Crisis Communication in Action – Auckland – 6 November
9.30am – 4.30pm – register for the early bird before 7 October here  

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