It is surprising how many companies and organizations go about their business believing that a “crisis” will not strike them. But unfortunately, in today’s world, no company or organization is immune from finding themselves in the midst of a crisis that could endanger not only their reputation, but their very business itself.
That’s why every company and organization should have a crisis communications plan in place. Certainly handling the crisis itself is a major part of any crisis plan. If your building catches fire, how do you get everyone out safely? That’s basis crisis planning. Here I am talking about potential damage to your company’s reputation because of a crisis. Like getting everyone out safely, your crisis communications plan should be geared to preserving the reputation you worked so hard to build.
The crisis communications textbook case is Johnson & Johnson and the Tylenol debacle. When it was discovered that the bottles had been tampered with and people died after taking the medication, nobody could trust the integrity of Tylenol. Johnson & Johnson had a real crisis on their hands. Tylenol was their most profitable product at the time, worth hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue
This is a real crisis, and Johnson & Johnson answered the call. They gathered their top managers, legal counsel, PR and advertising counsel and went into action with a crisis communications plan that proved brilliant and restored the brand to a leadership position. It certainly wasn’t cheap. The campaign to restore confidence in Tylenol cost the company about $100 million and included the possibility of changing the name altogether.
So what crises can a company expect? Try anything you can think of. From people placing body parts in food like Wendy’s experienced, to employees suing companies for discrimination, to labor strikes, to nonprofit agencies losing a client with Down Syndrome while on a camping trip – if it can happen, be prepared because it just might.
All crises have common elements. First, you never know what the crisis will be and when it will strike. Second, you never know what the fallout will be. And, often times you don’t know whether to address it head-on and risk calling more attention to it, or let it go and hope it goes away.
All a company can do is be prepared. Think of every possible crisis related to your business, and create scenarios to deal with it. Select individuals as members of your crisis communications response team. Make sure to include your legal counsel and PR consultants. Make sure everyone can instantly get in contact with each other, 24/7. And last, make sure that your crisis communications response team includes people experienced in dealing with a crisis.
Like they say, it’s not a matter of if; it’s a matter of when.