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Fight Or Flight In Crisis Management

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Cecelia HaddadGuest Post by Cecelia Haddad. Cecelia is the Director at Marketing Elements & Media Elements.  You can connect with Cecelia on LinkedIn or Twitter.

The fight-or-flight response, as defined by Wikipedia, is “a physiological reaction that occurs in response to a perceived harmful event, attack, or threat to survival”. We have all felt this in one form or another in our personal lives and without taking a survey I imagine flight is the more common response in the case of a personal threat.

But what if that threat relates to your organisation and you are the CEO, is flight really an option?  A crisis has hit and it looks like it’s the company’s responsibility – mismanagement (most common), human error, an unfair dismissal case and the list goes on.  The first response might be a form of flight – stay under the radar, don’t take media calls and hope that the noise dies down and another more interesting news story takes over.

However, while you are ducking for cover, your shareholders, employees, customers, suppliers and the general public are forming an impression of you that is probably not the one you want.  While the news cycle of the story may slow down, your company’s reputation will continue to suffer thanks to lingering stories online that will rise with each Google search.

Reputation is undoubtedly an organisation’s most valuable asset. It is what every company is built on. Organisations invest huge resources in establishing their brands in both the marketplace and in the public eye.

As Abraham Lincoln once said, “Character is like a tree and reputation like its shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.” 

Your company’s shadow is how people view you. In today’s lightning-fast, hyper-connected world, a crisis can occur and the news can be spread in a heartbeat. In the current media landscape of twitter feeds, YouTube hits and email alerts a company’s name can be demolished in minutes.

Social media allows consumer opinions to spread far and wide in a matter of moments. It gives any one individual the power to influence public opinion with a single blog post or twitter comment.   You may not be able to prevent the spread of online banter but you can effectively minimise the damage with a comprehensive crisis communications plan.

An issue ignored is often a crisis ensured and for that reason the ideal form of crisis management is prevention however if you are unable to prevent the crisis, then at least be prepared to deal with it when it does happen.  This plan should be planned well in advance of any crisis and form a critical element of every company’s business strategy, encompassing internal and external communication.

The reaction time in managing a crisis is a huge component in damage control. Any delay in response will hamper the company’s attempt at resolving the crisis.

Establishing a sound crisis communications plan should be a priority for all organisations as it will ensure the company is adequately equipped to deal with any crisis if and when it arises. Some important things to remember include:

Communicate with employees first:  Internal audiences are a priority in times of a crisis.  They are the ones answering the phones, interacting with external audiences and will probably be the go to people for others seeking answers.

First impressions count:  During a crisis, the first statement you make to the media is the most important and will set the tone for the crisis and how you / your company are perceived.

Earn Trust:  State the facts only, don’t speculate and don’t provide a hypothesis or false information.

Don’t hide from the media.  “No comment” will only cause speculation and send the media elsewhere for their story – it may even send them to your competitor, a victim/their family and others who will have a completely different view on the story.   If you don’t have enough information to share in the early stages of a crisis, then at the very least prepare and release a holding statement along the lines of ‘the full issue is currently being investigated and we are co-operating with authorities and will keep you informed as more information comes to hand’.

Stay in touch: Make sure that all stakeholders are kept informed on progress.  This keeps rumours and speculation at bay and minimises the need for the media to seek comments on the story elsewhere.

A crisis communications plan is a little like a fire extinguisher. You won’t really need it until a fire occurs but the consequences of not having one will lead to more damage.