Contingency Plan in the Face of a Communication Crisis

By: Noelia Lawson, country manager MileniumGroup Mexico

Building a good reputation for your company takes a long time;
destroying it is a matter of minutes.

Our work, as public relations specialists, is very similar to that of firefighters. Let’s think of it this way: in an almost permanent guard, our professional obligation is to remain -practically 24/7- attentive to the needs that each of our clients may have in managing their reputation and the messages it transmits. In that sense, we have another similarity: just as those brave men fight the fire head-on, we do the same with communication crises.

This is a situation that becomes more common in the activity that we develop and it is not for less: consumers are increasingly “empowered” due to the reach and influence that social networks give them; opinions and complaints can go viral in minutes; the media scandals that have an impact on ever-larger audiences; In addition, there is the risk of unfortunate situations or declarations. All this is what our work faces every day.

Therefore, being prepared to counteract any possible negative impact that these situations may have on the reputation of our clients is part of the crisis management plan that specialized agencies must establish, with the collaboration of companies, in order to protect their image and media integrity in the greatest number of possible scenarios.

Crisis management

Building a good reputation, for a company or brand, takes a long time; to destroy it can be enough in just a minute. The thing is that the risk of a negative impact on the public image can transcend such serious effects that they are reflected not only in a bad internal or media perception but also in a drop in sales, legal implications, and even in a likely exit from the market of the product or service being offered.

It is important to define that crises in communication can be internal or external. The first is one that arises “within the walls” of the company, from -for example- a complaint, from some collaborators, for some labor program with which they do not agree and transcends the rest of the organization; or, the complaint to a director or manager for alleged breach of trust or practices that endanger the integrity of the workers.

The second classification has to do with communication crises that transcend public opinion. As we have already mentioned, they are all those situations in which the company and its reputation are vulnerable due to some message, statement, or fact that is replicated in the mass media.

In any of these scenarios, the best resource is to be prepared, and, for this, companies and their communication agencies must establish an action plan that includes the following points:

  • The definition of scenarios: communication crises can occur at any time. Defining the most probable (and even the most unlikely) serves to contemplate lines of action that must be followed if any of them arise.
    In this process, it is necessary to take into account the turn of the company, political and social situations that could affect it, and even crimes by some collaborators incurred that compromised the public image of the company. Everything is possible.
  • The crisis committee: Let’s imagine that an external communication crisis occurs and the company’s reputation is affected every minute. Who will make the decisions in this scenario?
    This is precisely the work that some of the main managers, together with the legal and communication areas of the company, in addition to its specialized agency, must carry out to define the step-by-step of how to respond to an adverse situation.
  • Response messages: Just as probable scenarios linked to communication crises are envisioned, the plan must include a list of messages that serve to deal with the reputational problems that may arise. Brief and concise, they must clearly reflect the company’s values ​​and purpose.
  • Face in the face of the crisis: It is extremely important to define the role of who will participate, as the company’s spokesperson, when facing internal or public questioning about an event that is compromising its reputation.

In the next installment, we will analyze some of the actions to be carried out in the face of various communication crisis scenarios (internal and external) and how specialized agencies are essential to act professionally and promptly, to put out fires that compromise the image and reputation of our customers.