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crisisI wanted to share this interesting article I found on the Web site for Guidestar, an online information source regarding non-profit organizations. 

The article is titled, “Blood in The Water: Why you WILL Face a Media Crisis and What You Can Do About it.” 

It shares the perspective that crises are inevitable so you better have a plan.

Of course, professional communicators know that whether non-profit or for-profit, bad things happens.  As long as businesses are lead by human beings and human beings work at businesses and human beings continue to make mistakes, crises that may damage your corporate reputation, strain valuable relationships or disrupt your business will happen.

So, it’s not if your business will face a crisis, but when.

Check out these two examples in the Guidestar article:

Smithsonian:

  • Larry Small, brought in as secretary from Fannie Mae, gives himself perks to which he was accustomed in the private sector that are way out of line for a national nonprofit with 70 percent federal funding.
  • The media uncover this, and there is unrelenting bad coverage, driving Congressional hearings and pressure.
  • Small is gone, and the reputations of the Smithsonian and its board are heavily tarnished.

Red Cross:

  • Mark Everson, brought in as CEO from running the IRS to great acclaim, has an affair with a Red Cross official in the field, technically within his chain of command.
  • The media uncover this, and there is unrelenting bad coverage, driving Congressional pressure.
  • Everson is gone, and the Red Cross, reeling from previous turnover at the top, is very hard pressed to raise funds even in the wake of Hurricane Ike, causing reductions in its ability to serve and major layoffs.

The article goes on to share some detailed and specific advice for nonprofit organizations.  The same advice applies to for-profits.  It’s a really good list.

So, recognize that you WILL have a crisis – every business does – and put a plan in place.  Those who survive the crisis and, often, even deepen their relationships and strengthen the trust placed in them, are usually the ones who had a plan.

Post by Nick Vehr – 7.31.09

Speed of response has always been a critical element of any crisis communications exercise.  Professional communicators are well aware that social media has changed that forever.

US Airways 1549Just read this quote from an article in “The Strategist” (Spring 2009 – subscription required) regarding US Airways Flight 1549 – the one that landed in the Hudson.

“The 60-minute window in which to deliver an initial statement no longer exists.  In the case of Flight 1549, broadcast coverage hit in two minutes, wire coverage in six minutes and online coverage, complete with visuals, in nine minutes.  The US Airways communications team responded in 11 minutes after the incident, which is a clear indication that the airline was behind the curve from the start.”

Despite the near incomprehensibility if someone suggesting that 11 minutes for an initial response was “behind the curve,” it is clear that social media requires that we amp-up all of our planning.

In the July 13, 2009 PR News Tipsheet (subscription required), Scott Allison of Allison & Partners, offers these tips for crisis communications in an online world:

  • Plan ahead – think through scenarios and develop plans accordingly
  • Know what your customers think and use it to your advantage – stay close to your clients in good times and in bad
  • Leverage the power within – engage brand champions in times of crisis, and that doesn’t mean just the C-suite suits
  • Plan for the worst, whatever that might be – advanced planning may give you the breathing room you need to address fast-moving issues
  • Communicate your intentions – be sure the initial focus with the media is on fixing the problem
  • Pick your platform – make sure you are using the right social media platforms for your situation
  • Remember that time is of the essence – ‘nuf said.

Every business needs a crisis communications plan because every business will face some form of unplanned and unexpected disruption that, if not responded to in a timely and appropirate manner, can threaten the trust customers have placed in them and jeopardize the corporations reputation.

Post by Nick Vehr – 7.27.09

UNDProfessional communicators know that, sometimes, proactive crisis communications results in no crisis at all, or at least no business disruption when the crisis hits.

I am a graduate of the University of Notre Dame (Go Irish!).  In the Summer 2009 edition of Notre Dame Magazine there was avery thoughtful article titled, “Weather Report: How ND is faring in the financial storm.” 

ND is a University with a very large endowment ($5.4 billion plus) and commitment to student financial aid ($83 million next year).  It relies heavily on investment income.

What struck me was how administrators not only averted lay-offs and drastic cutbacks when endowment revenue dropped, but their sincere commitment to open and honest dialogue with the University community every step of the way.

Yes, they managed their assets conservatively, diversified appropriately and in a timely way and had large reserves for difficult times.  That’s not the real story, at least to me.

ND higher-ups knew their faculty and staff were just as concerned about what impact the volatile economy might have on their ability to provide for their families, to make mortgage and car payments.

So, what did they do?  They thought ahead, treated people like adults, demonstrated understanding and compassion and communicated aggressively sharing real information, not just spin and good news.

“They embarked on a series of town-hall style departmental meetings in which they laid out the University’s fiscal strengths and vulnerabilities in full-disclosure mode … The goal was to calm fears. The risk was to heighten apprehensions,” the article shared.

The V.P. of Finance at ND, “… believes internal institutional communication is crucial in a time of crisis.”

ND’s executive VP added that, “We wanted everyone on campus to know what our plans and contingencies are.”

ND’s senior team demonstrated leadership, proactive decision-making and commitment to their work force at a very volatile, confusing and anxious time.  They worked to retain the trust and confidence of those who rely on them to make good decisions.

So far, it appears that fears have been calmed, trust retained, and apprehensions managed.  The corporate reputation is intact and, perhaps, enhanced.  Key relationships have been maintained, if not strengthened.

Sounds to me a lot like a very successful proactive crisis communications exercise.

Post by Nick Vehr (ND ’81) – 7.18.09

computer thiefWow!  Were we ever reminded recently of the importance of having a disciplined work environment and a good business disruption plan.  This, of course, speaks to all professional communicators of the importance of having a crisis communications plan in place.

I came to the office recently and realized we had been broken into.  That’s right, burgled!  Several other offices in our building were hit.  We lost seven laptops. 

After the initial feeling of violation and anger, we immediately focused on ensuring that client information (at the core of what we do) was secure and our work on their behalf could continue.

Because of having good systems, good IT support and disciplined, responsible colleagues, we hardly missed a beat.  Several of our guys with very active client projects were up and running in about 2 hours.  The rest of us had new computers with 24 hours.  In between, we worked off of blackberrys and borrowed laptops with temporary access to our server.

The whole experience, though, reminds me to remind our team and our clients of the importance of advanced planning, disciplined execution and having good systems in place so when the crisis hits – AND IT WILL! – disruption is minimized.

I’ll be spending some time posting about crisis comms. in the coming month and just wanted to start this focus by sharing our own horrible experience. 

Of course, it could have been worse.  No one was here when the bad guy came so no one was hurt.  The server was secured and all data protected and backed-up.  The thief was surgically efficient (only laptops, power cords and a few laptop cases were stolen) and no other damage was done.

We were lucky.  We were also prepared with good systems and good support in place. 

Oh yeah, we quickly let our clients know what had happened and that all information was secure and saved to our server and not stored on our laptops.  We certainly didn’t want them to hear about our break-in from some other source and, then, be left wondering if they had been compromised.  That would not be putting the client first.  We needed to retain their trust and confidence in us.  We need to manage our own corporate reputation.

More on that in coming posts.

Anxious to read your thoughts and suggestions.

Post by Nick Vehr – 7.17.09