Who absolutely, positively must be in the room when your organization is up against it?
This is a crucial question for every company to consider, yet as crisis communication expert Gerard Braud recently shared with Ragan, far too many wait until the firestorm hits before determining who should do what.
“There are too many corporate leaders who think they’ll just figure it out whenever the crisis happens,” Braud says. “They’ll put money into revenue-producing initiatives, but they’re in denial when it comes to things that could damage the brand long-term.”
The damage resulting from lack of preparation can certainly be severe. Eleventh-hour scrambling saps valuable response time and delays crucial communication, and it can cause a host of other disastrous corporate consequences. Take, for instance, not quite knowing how to respond to a scandalous viral video featuring one of your employees—or, perhaps, trying to keep employees informed amid a global pandemic.
No one can prepare for every possible scenario, but you can (and should) establish who is on your crisis communication team and what each person’s role should be in anticipation of that inevitable PR pickle. Braud says smaller companies should keep crisis teams lean—think four or five people. Your crisis plan must be realistic and should align with the personnel and resources you have on hand.
“The biggest mistake in crises is the failure to have a crisis communication plan that can be executed by the existing team,” Braud says.
In other words, focus on creating a realistic, straightforward plan that your team can swiftly enact rather than concocting unwieldy, grandiose protocols that could create more confusion than clarity.
Too many cooks in the kitchen
Braud says CEOs of smaller companies will obviously be more hands-on and involved in crisis management. However, you don’t want too many cooks in the crisis kitchen. It’s admirable to want widespread involvement and companywide input, but crises are not the time for broad consensus and feedback gathering. If you invite every department head or manager into your war room, “everyone will want to voice an opinion,” which will just waste precious time and make your strategy sputter, Braud says.
So, the CEO and comms person are in the room. Beyond that, it’s based entirely on the company’s size and the situation you’re dealing with. Braud says that depending on the scenario, you might need someone who understands logistics and distribution or, instead, people who have expertise on the topic at hand. Whatever it is, determine: “Who absolutely needs to be in the room?” That’s who’s on your main crisis team.
Braud advises taking a tiered approach to filling out your crisis response squad. Beyond your first-stringers and teams that must be represented, select second-tier participants who can supplement your response as needed.
For instance, the finance director might not be needed in every meeting, but she should be available when necessary. The same goes for specific subject-matter experts—such as a logistics pro or business continuity specialist—not to mention members of the executive management team or company department heads. Regardless of your selections for the front line of defense, make sure to shore up your secondary.
Checking egos at the door
Crises are not the time to worry about hurt feelings. As Braud says, “People have fragile egos and are afraid of being left out or being left in the dark.” However, leaders must be tough on this front and not let emotions get in the way of selecting the most efficient and effective crisis team—even if that means taking a less hands-on approach.
For CEOs of larger companies, that’s often a savvy move, says Braud, who advises top brass to prioritize delegation and demonstrate confidence in their team to execute during crunch time.
Communicators can play a crucial role in soothing wounded pride for those not tapped for crisis duty. Emphasize the fact that somebody has to keep the business going and ensure the trains continue running on time. Clarify that while not everyone can be on the crisis A-team, that doesn’t mean you’re “nonessential personnel.”
Ultimately, success hinges on preparing plans that play to your company’s strengths and diminish its weaknesses. “It’s about picking what’s the right for your organization,” Braud says. And, of course, it’s all about preparation.
“These plans must be in place when crisis plans are being established—not during the crisis.”