This article was written for our sponsor, Sinclair Public Affairs.
For the business community, the word "crisis" can indicate a variety of things. For organizations or companies, it can mean something has gone wrong with your brand, operations, finances or even that your reputation is in jeopardy.
Other times, a crisis can be the result of external factors like an unstable economy or natural disasters directly impacting your business.
With the coronavirus pandemic that is affecting both the national and global economy, many businesses and organizations are having to figure out how to "navigate a new normal" amidst the crisis. As we tread the waters of the unprecedented times we're facing, a rapid, yet thoughtful, response is the best way forward.
"If your business or company has been affected by what's presently going on in the world, you might be asking yourself 'What do I do now?,'" said Chris Sinclair, owner and founder of Sinclair Public Affairs, a North Carolina-based public affairs firm that handles crisis management, public affairs and media relations. "Your decisions early on can affect the whole process. What's happening now with this international crisis — it's affecting everyone from CEOs, to frontline workers, to everyday people living their lives. We are having to adjust in a significant way in a very short amount of a time."
Sinclair emphasized that time is of the essence.
"Immediate action is key. I tell folks that they need to have a plan. Hopefully you won't have to use it, but if you do have to, act quickly," he said.
While the current situation is unique and undoubtedly significant, crises come at varying levels of seriousness and it is almost certain that a business will have to face a crisis at one point or another. Most crises can be managed if approached in the right way, with a level of immediacy.
With years of experience to back up his counsel, Sinclair offered the following advice on how to deal with a crisis.
Create a plan ahead of time
As Sinclair mentioned, having a plan of action in case of a crisis is paramount. It's essential to create this plan ahead of time because then it can immediately be put into effect when a situation arises. If you wait for a problem to arise before thinking of a solution, you're wasting valuable response time coming up with a plan while the crisis plays out.
"Thinking proactively enables you to come up with protocols for certain situations. It could be a technological crisis, a financial crisis, problems with personnel within a company — anything. But you should have a plan for it," Sinclair advised.
Your plan should do the following:
- Assess potential risks
- Determine the business impact
- Identify the best path forward
- Create a plan based on this path that includes key stakeholders
- Loop in stakeholders, employees and anyone else that needs to be included
- Craft thoughtful responses to anticipated questions
"If people come to you with questions, you will need to answer them," Sinclair said. "You can decide which approach you'd like to take — whether it's waiting until you're asked or reaching out to your audience or customer base to push your side of the story. In either scenario, preparedness is the answer."
Social media often plays a big role in the "response" effort, and Sinclair encourages clients to leverage its power to spread the word and control the narrative.
"For organizations, communication is important both internally and externally," he said. "In this rapid world of constant communication, social media can throw a wrench into your operation immediately if you're not keeping a pulse on it, and responding appropriately and proactively."
Make a statement that is timely, yet thoughtful
Speaking of communication, time is of the essence during a crisis, and sooner or later you will have to speak on the issue your business is facing.
In response to COVID-19, for example, many companies have sent out statements via social media or newsletters that address how they are handling the pandemic and how it will affect their operations, employees and customers.
When making any type of crisis statement, the most important thing is to be genuine and own up to the situation, whatever it is.
"It will only do more harm to your company if you skirt around an issue, or even worse, lie about what's going on," Sinclair said. "I've seen many of my clients do a pretty good job during this time at pivoting and adjusting to the situation on the ground, which is rapidly evolving. Message is really important in any crisis; but especially right now, having the right tone of the message is critical."
Make sure your statement conveys a comprehensive message that covers all your bases and answers any questions people need to know to better understand the situation. Once you've settled on a statement, you can then decide how to disseminate it — whether through social media, advertisements or press releases.
The first statement should be strong, as the crisis management process will be ongoing, so you want to make sure your initial address is clear.
Prepare for the long haul
Not all crises are created equal. Some can be resolved in a matter of days or weeks. Others, like the coronavirus pandemic, can take months or even longer. It's important to prepare for a process that will be more long-term than short-term.
Even after you make an initial statement, for example, you'll likely have to periodically respond as the issue develops. Staying in constant communication with your audience and customers will let them know that you're engaged and care about them.
"You'll want to monitor the situation as it progresses. This could be from stories in the media to online posts from customers. If you know the narrative, it's easier to respond appropriately," Sinclair said. "At Sinclair, we have the technology to view the whole conversation, measure sentiment and create reports based on this data, which will make responding to the situation easier."
Firms like Sinclair work with organizations day-in and day-out to develop unique management plans that will allow them to rapidly respond should a crisis occur. While no one can be sure of what life may have in store, businesses can prepare themselves for an emergency or unexpected event if they take the time to create a plan ahead of time, make a timely and thoughtful statement and anticipate the journey ahead.
Added Sinclair, "Whether you're a family-run business, an individual leading a company, an employed worker or an organization, you need to have a crisis management plan in place. So many people are doing it on the fly."
This article was written for our sponsor, Sinclair Public Affairs.