‘What’s the worst that can happen?’ It’s a phrase we use liberally with not much thought. But really, imagine the scale of potential situations, from HSE enforcement notices, accidents on site or (god forbid) a fatality.
Every company should have a plan in place for handling a crisis. Remember, you won’t need to rebuild your reputation if you manage it effectively from scratch by having a PR crisis plan in place before the event.
Ask yourself the question ‘Is my company prepared for a crisis and how will we respond?’
In the construction industry, expertise, safety and reputation are everything. In the event of a crisis, it is all too easy for companies, even those with the most resources, to get it spectacularly wrong.
No crisis is really planned. But when one does happen, what you already have in place before the crisis will determine how your reputation will be affected.
Here are four things you can do before a crisis occurs:
Get a team in place – establish exactly who will do what
Decide who is going to be the primary spokesperson (usually the CEO) as well as at least two deputy spokespeople. Define the roles of each and ensure that they have had relevant media training.
It can be damaging for an untrained spokesperson to speak to the media directly. Media training will help your spokespeople communicate effectively and cope with the types of questions that will be asked.
Clearly define the role of other key individuals, such as the health and safety manager and any external PR agencies; include the legal teams and ensure they are all briefed on the plan and prepared to support the spokespeople during a crisis.
Establish procedures and systems
Establish procedures that will allow you to implement your crisis plan. List who will do what and make sure that you consider all the communication channels, including social media.
Consider the timings – what if something happens after hours, what is the chain of command?
Ensure your communications experts are able to react and establish clear and consistent messages quickly that can be delivered across all of your communications platforms, including social media channels. Keep stakeholders informed.
Start listening and monitoring and engaging with stakeholders
You need to be established in the online space with your stakeholders in order to respond, participate and engage with them. If a problem occurs, you will already be a trusted and recognisable voice with credibility.
Monitor company mentions across all channels including social media. Social media and online news spreads very quickly.
Online people will be talking about the crisis before traditional media channels, sometimes within minutes of the event happening.
You should already be practising online reputation management, the practice of consistent research and analysis of your business or industry reputation, as it is represented by content across all types of online media.
Practice your plan
When you have drafted your crisis communications plan, share it internally and externally with PR agencies and legal teams and get feedback.
Practice using event scenarios that focus specifically on the communications aspect of the event. What works and what could be done better?Evaluate your plan and adjust it.
The essence of dealing effectively with a crisis is planning. If you have a catastrophe on your hands then the last thing you need is to be searching out phone numbers or setting up a twitter feed.
With an up-to-date plan in place you are free to focus on the issue in hand, everyone knows what they are doing and your communication channels will deliver your message quickly and efficiently.