Emergencies seldom arrive with advance notice, and they are never considerate of your circumstances. As much as we like to imagine our businesses are infallible and will never succumb to things such as an economic crisis, or natural disasters, it is always advisable to have a PR Crisis Management plan in place in case of an emergency. The emergence of COVID-19 (coronavirus) has caused businesses around the world to evaluate their Public Relations Crisis Management plans. These plans provide businesses with a focused approach in the event of a disaster or economic complications. Over the past 25 years, JB Communications, which is located in the heart of the New Orleans area, has weathered many storms, including Hurricane Katrina and multiple hurricane evacuations, BP Oil Disaster, 911, industry collapses, recessions and many other unforeseeable events.
JB Communications PR Crisis Management Plan
Amid the March 2020 Coronavirus pandemic, many small businesses found themselves scurrying to figure out crisis response. Some companies discovered a poor employee communication infrastructure, outdated customer contact lists, and a lack of an editable website or social media presence. The lack of planning either halted or added obstacles to conducting business during an emergency. Small business owners take on many roles in the day-to-day operations of a business. And many times, crisis management planning will take a backseat to these activities.
When the pandemic started shuttering businesses and changing the way businesses were allowed to operate, the JB Communications team immediately went into overdrive. Our existing clients were immediately contacted to review their plans concerning the existing crisis, to refine their messages, and to engage the crisis management plan for their businesses. These businesses had a public relations and marketing partner ready to consult, guide, and act so they could focus on the other aspects of managing their businesses. These crisis management plans were developed to align clients with custom-tailored strategies to help communicate directives and tactics during a potential public crisis.
Here are some tips to help you with your company’s crisis plan. There are 3 phases of crisis management: pre-crisis, crisis response, and post-crisis. All three phases are equally important.
Many times, the pre-crisis phase is often overlooked until a business experiences a crisis. What good is a fire alarm if you can’t find the emergency doors? One of the keys to successfully responding to a crisis is speed; every moment counts!
Constructing your crisis plan can often be viewed as an overwhelming task, but it is necessary. Preparations should always begin before the crisis happen. Your crisis plan does not have to be overly complicated. Getting started can be as simple as reaching out to an experienced public relations team.
Here are the basic elements you should include in your pre-planning:
- Secure a crisis management team;
- Defined roles of team members in a crisis, including a dedicated spokesperson;
- Updated employee contacts;
- Crisis plan checklists;
- Updated customer contacts and a means to communicate either through email or text messaging;
- Website that can be updated immediately with current information;
- Social Media outlets;
- Current list of media contacts;
- Centrally located, secure back up of your files.
Your Crisis Management Team should regularly focus on detecting early signs of a crisis: hurricanes, tornadic weather, pandemic shutdowns, employee complaints, bad public reviews, poor vendor relations, etc.
- Your Action Plan: Your Crisis Management Team should discuss the potential threat as a group and identify the best course of action, using your Crisis Management Plan as a guide.
- Your Message: A clear and consistent
message as it relates to the crisis must be devised. In the state of a crisis, before sending out
your message, you need to make sure of the following:
- Clear and consistent message communicates your plans in dealing with the specific crisis;
- The message follows within the guidelines of any government or regulatory mandates;
- Consult an attorney if the crisis involves an employee or legal issue;
- Stick to the Script. Avoid emotional, knee-jerk responses.
- Be prepared to update your message as the situation evolves.
- Your Communication: There are three primary groups you should consider for your or pr crisis management communications: Your Employees, Your Customers, and the Public. Some companies may have additional groups, such as stockholders or investors.
- Your Employees: Your first step should be to communicate any corporate changes to your staff with a calm, clear, and concise message. Share your plan and communicate the public message. Clearly define roles, responsibilities, and management contacts. If necessary, provide education and resources to your employees and communicate to them the plan for future scheduling and arrangements.
- Your Customers: Once your company is fully informed, it’s time to communicate with your customers. Your customer outreach should be straightforward, concise, and friendly. Two of the best ways to immediately connect with your customers are through email or text messaging, your website, and social media. Clearly identify where your customers can get updated information on the situation.
- The General Public: Finally, you can communicate to the public through news releases, social media announcements, Google My Business, and changes to your website. It’s important to keep an updated list of media contacts.
- Your Marketing: Depending on the crisis situation, it may have a profound effect on your ongoing marketing plan. Pay close attention to your marketing messages and platforms. Adjust if necessary.
- Reputation Management: Consistently monitor media outlets, review sites, and social media for solicited or unsolicited communication regarding your company. Keep close tabs on negative information and be prepared to respond quickly with your pre-prepared messaging. Highlight any positive information using your lines of communication.
Even after a crisis dies down, there is still a lot of work to be done to get your business back to normal. A PR expert will set up opportunities to connect with your employees, customers and the public through the proper channels, including your company website, social media, television, radio and print publications. The purpose of this plan is to responsibly monitor and manage the injuries or victories to your business. Furthermore, it is important to thoroughly review your crisis management plan to identify areas that may need modifications.
Crisis Management Case Studies
Disaster can mean many things. A crisis can be anything from a weather disaster to a recession to an internal issue. Disasters to not discriminate; businesses of any size are susceptible to catastrophes. You don’t have to be a Fortune 500 company to understand the value of crisis planning. Small business owners can learn from the success and failures large corporations, including PepsiCo, JetBlue and Toyota, and it was the PR Crisis Management Plan that determined whether or not these industry giants would prevail.
- PepsiCo: In PepsiCo’s case, the crisis was a hoax, and their goal was to squash the spread of misinformation by releasing cold, hard facts. In 1993, a customer allegedly discovered a syringe in their can of Diet Pepsi. Within a week, the company faced over 50 claims of similar instances of “can tampering.” It was clear to PepsiCo and the FDA that these claims were false, so the company responded by turning television and developing four effective commercials that detailed their reporting and included revealing footage of a woman sneaking a syringe in her Pepsi can. The company had evidence to support their claim and they had the support of a powerful organization: The FDA.
- JetBlue: For an airline, weather complications can be a death sentence for sales and customer loyalty. During one particularly gruesome ice storm, the airline was forced to cancel over 1,000 flights, resulting in thousands of frustrated passengers. The airline was prepared for an occasion such as this and immediately communicated to the public their customer’s Bill of Rights, which outlined monetary compensation as well as anything else the airline would do to protect its customers. Most importantly, the JetBlue CEO never blamed the weather. In later communications, he never made excuses. He consistently apologized for the situation and only made promises that he could keep.
- Toyota: Toyota is an excellent example… of what not to do with PR Crisis Management. In the cases of PepsiCo and JetBlue, the companies were able to lean heavily on their honesty, pre-written reports and guarantees. Toyota, however, wasn’t quite sure what was wrong when they recalled over 8.8 million vehicles in 2010 (recalled for what?). Without an exact answer, the company floundered to determine a game plan, which resulted in sloppy attempts to deflect media backlash. Thankfully, when Toyota eventually pulled through, they realized they had to seriously evaluate their crisis management plan. They modified their initial plan to focus on the company’s dedication to resolving the issue. By the time NASA exonerated Toyota for many of the accidents, the company had completed thorough investigations and effectively communicated their hard work to the public.
Contact JBC to Develop A Comprehensive Plan for Next Time
Hopefully, there will never be a “next time.” But for all of life’s little emergencies, your Public Relations and Marketing experts will custom-build a PR Crisis Management plan that can help you prepare and navigate any future crisis that comes your way. Experience matters in Public Relations Crisis Management. JBC is currently working small and mid-size businesses during COVID-19. If you need help connecting with your audience during these bizarre times, contact JBC for a complimentary consultation!