Crises happen!  In the past few weeks, we have seen a chemical spill that cut off tap water for 300,000 West Virginians and a cruise line that had to cut its trip short after nearly 700 passengers and crew fell ill with vomiting and diarrhea.’ 

And the best way to deal with a crisis is to plan for it so it can be prevented or at least any potential damage caused by whatever the crisis is, minimized.   However, if you don’t plan for a crisis, and we can prepare for everything, here are a few tips to remember, no matter what:

The Response

When a crises occur your team needs to quickly assess the facts and determine the best response given the situation.  For the company and government in West Virginia, the response should have been immediate. But in some instances the response should be not respond at all – Especially if it is over social media. Proper monitoring should flag anything to be concerned about on line and in real-time. But just because someone posts something about you, your company or your CEO does not mean you have to respond, in fact, you shouldn’t. You don’t want to start a debate on line and feed a discussion that could potentially be more damaging than just one post.

The response in West Virginia should have been direct and done in person.  The response for the cruise line should have been through statements, press releases and on a website.

Who speaks for you?

The CEO may not always be the best person to respond to a crisis. It really depends on the issue, but perhaps there is someone else that should respond or at least has more knowledge to thoughtfully respond. This could be a front-line employee or someone with direct experience with the issue.   Many people want to hear directly from the CEO, so have the CEO be prepared but be prepared to find another spokesperson.

In the case of the chemical spill, the Governor and Mayors of the affected communities should be the face of the solution holding those responsible for the spill accountable. The CEO of the company involved should also be the public face, attending press conferences and town halls. In the case of the cruise line, any statement should be from the CEO.

What do lawyers know about your reputation? 

Don’t let your team of lawyers have the final say on how you communicate external messages. From the beginning, even before a crisis occurs, the legal and marketing departments should meet frequently to foster a solid working relationship and understanding of what each other does. Messages should also be shared with legal and often have legal sign off on statements. But the liability concerns a lawyer may typically have should not prevent a company from dealing with the issue directly and otherwise jeopardize the company’s reputation. Limiting a response may open yourself to more questions and further expose you to reputational risk.

 The bottom line

When an event occurs, you need to respond promptly, effectively and efficiently.  But before anything happens, a company should set up a monitoring system to mind the chatter, engage your employees and service your customers to prevent or preempt something from happening. In addition, a company should have a rapid response plan in place should something happen.

And finally, the best way to limit your risk to is know where you are weak and where crises may emerge – and then to plan accordingly.