Companies today are under a lot of pressure despite potential threats such as ethical violations, financial market rumors, activist campaigns, class action lawsuits, accidents and natural disasters that could undermine a companies ability to operate, let alone compete. Civil litigation, criminal prosecution, corporate governance, privacy, M&A, bankruptcy, regulatory actions, investigations product liability and recall, just to name a few, all require effective ways to prepare and respond to minimize risk and any potential damage. It takes years to build a reputation and only seconds to destroy it. In today’s economy, one’s reputation is their one distinguishing virtue by which a company can compete. Yet, disasters come unexpectedly. News breaks today in a Tweet. It comes so unexpectedly, usually with some warning but a warning we often ignore or fail to prepare for. From an undercover investigation by a local news’ crime stopper, to a disgruntled employee spreading rumors about your company or product over social media we all are at risk and vulnerable. Knowing where you are vulnerable is the first step in any crisis management plan. And if you know where you are vulnerable, you can change what needs to be changed.
If you don't and a crises ensues, at least know who to call. The first outside professional to get that call is typically a lawyer. By sheer nature of the profession, lawyers have become known as the first responders to crises. If a client gets into the trouble, they are instructed to call their attorney immediately. Therefore, lawyers need to know how to respond. When a client calls in a panic telling you that there is a news truck parked in their driveway or a reporter is sitting in their lobby, you need to act, address the issue and remain strategic in protecting the client.
For example, when a crises occurs we should respond and not react. As the first responder the lawyer needs to know how to respond. First, evaluate the situation from the balcony. Take a big picture view, not as a lawyer but as someone who is removed from the situation. Strategic counselors remain strategic when they are not directly engaged in the situation. They are better able to advise their clients as to how to respond in a quick, credible manner allowing the one dealing with the crisis to remain confident and decisive. In fact, keep in mind the following:
- In communicating with those that matter most, such as employees, customers, venders and the public, it is important to know what you will say. These key messages are the messages that assures the pubic your client is on top of the issue, is engaged and responsive.
- Next, identify the media and appropriate media channels to communicate. How will your client’s message be communicated? Through the newspapers? If so, what is their lead time and which reporter will you contact. Is it important enough to get it on line? Who follows your clients on Twitter and is that the best way to communicate.
- Become familiar with a few public relations firms or media savvy individuals that can help you in an emergency, that knows the reporters that need to be contacted and the process by which they want to be communicated with.
The good news is that crises can be prevented and the damage from those that aren’t can be mitigated. Lawyers should encourage their clients to plan. In fact, plan for the worst, yet hope for the best. Think of any scenario that could ruin a business or damage a reputation and plan. If you can't, than just know what to do should you get that call.