Policy. Plan. Practice.

The Three Components of Effective Crisis Response by Bob Roemer No organization is immune from a crisis that can damage or destroy its reputation. Don't confuse image with reputation. Image is mostly an internally generated description depicting how an organization wants to be perceived. Some mission, vision, values statements and marketing campaigns fall into this category. Reputation is an organization's most valuable asset, generated mostly by people outside the organization and is a much more candid assessment of an organization's competency and credibility than an image. These people - often called "stakeholders" - can include customers, public officials, neighbors, suppliers, contractors, contributors, partners, non-governmental organizations, employees and retirees. Like oil in an engine, a positive reputation can reduce the friction of doing business and is the basis of whether stakeholders give the organization the benefit of the doubt in a crisis. Because behavior in a crisis speaks volumes about an organization's reputation, the goal of effective crisis response is to defend its reputation. That is accomplished by three elements: • • • Policy Plan Practice

Policy: Protect, Correct, Connect The organization's senior executive must communicate that the goal of crisis response is to defend the organization's reputation by using the following strategy: • • • Protect people, property and the environment.1 Correct the problem. Connect with stakeholders.

Each strategic component is externally focused. That's not to say there aren't important internal issues and concerns; however, if most of the response focuses on internal issues it's a safe bet it won't be effective.

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Depending on the nature of an organization or the crisis some of these elements may not be applicable.

In most cases the strategy must be implemented simultaneously, not sequentially, often before all the facts, circumstances and information are known. Plan: Roadmap to Response Because a crisis can develop and spread like a wildfire, a comprehensive response plan is required. The plan is a roadmap to manage the organization's response. As such it must include the actions, decisions, information and resources needed to defend the organization's reputation. It also should designate the members of the Crisis Response Team (CRT). The plan must consist of operational and communication elements, which usually are implemented simultaneously, not sequentially. The tremendous pressure and stress of a crisis - news of any situation can be broadcast around the world in less than 30 minutes - means the plan must be completed and tested before a crisis occurs. It is imperative that key people in the organization buy into the plan and the actions and decisions that will be implemented. There's no time for debate or discussion regarding what should be done as a crisis is breaking. The plan should be long on specifics and short on philosophy and written so the most junior member of the CRT can implement it with confidence. Practice: Dust Off the Plan Having invested the time and resources to create a plan, don't let it sit on the shelf and gather dust. To be effective, the CRT must be given opportunities to practice their roles and become familiar with the plan. The team must also periodically review the plan to verify that data, actions, procedures and resources are current and correct. Quarterly tabletop exercise Ask the primary and alternate CRT members to set aside one hour each quarter for a tabletop exercise. The purpose of this exercise is to review the plan and familiarize themselves with their responsibilities. Create a brief crisis scenario and one development on which the exercise will be based. After the team has an opportunity to read the scenario - the first time the team sees the scenario should be at the meeting - each person explains what he or she would do in this situation. In addition, each member reviews the procedures, decisions, resources and information in his or her section of the plan to ensure it is current and relevant.

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Experience shows that almost every tabletop exercise reveals items in the plan requiring revision or updating. It also shows that most teams will elect to spend more than one hour in the tabletop exercise, especially if it's an intriguing scenario. Crisis simulation A crisis simulation to evaluate the plan and the people responsible for implementing it under realistic conditions can be an eye-opening experience. Unlike quarterly drills, a crisis simulation requires participants to "show their work" in response to developments in a real-time, detailed scenario. For example, if the crisis response plan calls for a statement about the situation to be ready within one hour after notification, the communications staff must actually produce that document, obtain the necessary approvals and select a spokesperson - or spokespeople - to work with reporters covering this story. CRT members conduct the meetings and make the decisions they would in an actual situation. Many simulations use evaluators to critique the response and identify strengths and opportunities for improvement. Role players add realism to the proceedings; for example, reporters at a news conference or interview. Crisis simulations require much work to prepare and conduct but sharpen the crisis team's proficiency. The lessons learned from a simulation must be incorporated into the plan after a thorough debriefing between CRT members and the evaluators. Media training Providing information to stakeholders - the jury in the court of public opinion who make judgments about your reputation - through the media is a vital component of crisis response. Attempting to avoid the press or "spin" the situation reveals your organization's true character: all of it negative. Chances are in the early hours of a crisis you won't have many details. Reporters understand that. If you don't know the answer to a question, say you don't know. However, share the details of your efforts to protect, correct and connect. That's the information stakeholders need to know early in a crisis. Media training for potential spokespeople, and their supervisors, is critical to their success. That training must include selecting and analyzing audiences, creating effective messages that address the audiences' concerns and needs, and delivering those messages by working with reporters. The most important element of training is providing attendees several opportunities to practice interviews followed by critiques. Make the interviews realistic. The odds of the spokesperson being involved in an "ambush interview" during

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the early stages of a crisis are minimal. Don't waste time on theatrics during media training. The training must be conducted in a positive, supportive environment so students leave the workshop with the confidence that they will be successful in this critical role. An Investment in Your Organization’s Reputation Given the speed and crush of business it's easy to put off crisis planning, thinking "we'll get around to it eventually." But that attitude leaves the organization's reputation vulnerable. A crisis response policy, including a realistic plan and ample opportunities to practice, is an investment in protecting the organization's most valuable resource: its reputation. Putting it all together How do you put all this together? When the Balloon Goes Up: The Communicator's Guide to Crisis Response shows you how to do that, step-by-step. # # # Bob Roemer is a public relations consultant and an adjunct faculty member teaching crisis communications in Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism Integrated Marketing Communications graduate program. Before teaching he spent 20 years in the oil and chemical industries as a public affairs manager. Roemer is the author of When the Balloon Goes Up: The Communicator's Guide to Crisis Response. Close

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