It is a well-known fact that building a brand’s reputation takes considerable time and effort, yet a crisis has the ability to threaten it at any time. Although you may not possess direct control over a crisis when it hits, you can certainly plan carefully and develop your response strategically ahead of time.

Be prepared and develop a crisis management plan

Although many organisations identify that crisis management is a top priority, many fail to develop a robust plan that deals with any sudden or significant negative event.  A Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu survey, which polled 300 executives, reported that “only 19% would award their company an ‘A’ for its capability in protecting against and responding to reputation risks”, and, “39% ranked their risk-management programs as at best ‘average’, and often ‘below average’”.[1] With this in mind, a crisis management plan will allow any business to determine and map out the necessary tasks or strategies, training, laws, communications and information that will facilitate any crisis. In turn, this will increase productivity, the welfare of employees and the general public, and will assist to prevent reputation damage.

Depending on the nature of the business, each plan will differ but the following components should always be considered. Although every issue must be dealt with promptly, activation guidelines must be established to ensure that the plan is only fully executed when issues escalate to crisis level. You must create detailed action plans to ensure that each employee is aware of the tasks and action items that need to be undertaken during the crucial stages of the crisis. The plan will include allocated timeframes, designated roles and progress reports. When a crisis hits, it is crucial that you communicate in a timely and effective manner to your stakeholders and the general public. To achieve this, you need to have pre-approved crisis communication and messaging which can be used at any time. Furthermore, it is imperative that you have comprehensive contact lists that you can potentially reach during a dire time of need.

Own up to your mistakes

Attempting to cover up a mistake or crisis will only be to the detriment of your company’s reputation and future. Although a mistake might be accidental or made in good faith, all mistakes must be acknowledged and dealt with promptly. You might not have the exact answer or strategy, but to rebuild public confidence and prevent any further issues from occurring, you need to demonstrate that you are taking an appropriate course of action to rectify the situation immediately. Taking the non-argumentative approach to crises will not only fair better with the general public, it will encourage a work environment that values truth and integrity, which will enable employees to handle any tough situations that may arise.

Ensure your team is social media saavy

In a world where problems can arise in seconds and spread instantaneously through social media, companies can remain calm knowing they have a set team and protocol in place if an issue arises. Social media can allow you to gauge customer feedback, determine brand deficiencies and even predict causes of crises. It is important that your team are able to actively monitor and track social media mentions of your company, clients and even competitors. Through active monitoring, you might be able to stop a crisis in its tracks by quickly diffusing a negative situation. If you do however enter a form of crisis, steady monitoring will allow your team to efficiently brainstorm an effective strategy by listening to your community.

Who can we learn from?

In late 2016, Dreamworld faced one of its biggest crises when a horrific accident resulted in the death of four visitors. It is widely thought that the management and board mishandled the response in the initial 48 hour crucial period as they adopted a legalistic approach and abandoned any emotional response that the general public were requiring, nominated the chief executive as the spokesperson, rather than the company chief executive and reopened the theme park for a memorial service whilst it was still a crime scene.

This response contrasts to BHP’s Chief Executive, Andrew Mackenzie, following the Samarco Dam disaster in Brazil. He immediately flew to the scene to inspect the damage, apologised to the media and general public and arranged water, food and other resources for those affected. Although it was a devastating incident which resulted in environmental damage and deaths, their response allowed them to take control of their reputation and learn for other potential disasters.

Reflect and plan for the future

Once the crucial stage of the crisis has subsided and been overcome, all processes throughout the crisis management should be discussed as a team and well documented. This will allow your team as a whole to effectively brainstorm the best plan of action in regaining lost reputation and set a plan of action in case a similar crisis occurs again. Although reflection will allow you to identify the causes of the initial problem, it can pinpoint broader patterns which will assist in the planning of your overall crisis management plan. This process will aid self-improvement of individual team members which will equip them with the relevant tools to overcome any crisis in the future.

Agent Sharon

*This article appeared in Business First Magazine