Tom Curtin is the CEO of reputation and crisis management consultancy Curtin&Co, and a visiting professor at IMD Business School. Below he has set out his ten lessons on how to best protect your reputation before, during and after a crisis hits.
1. Have a crisis team in place
It is vital in a crisis that everyone knows their roles and who’s in charge. Anyone who’s ever been sailing knows there can only be one captain on a ship. Your company should have a very clear chain of command with clearly defined roles and tasks agreed well in advance of a crisis hitting.
2. Stick to your guns
In a crisis the media will be looking for any angle they can find. An informal, off the cuff, remark can have unforeseen implications. Nothing should be left to chance when dealing with the media. All statements should be carefully prepared in advance of a crisis and most importantly be cleared by the lawyers.
3. Monitor the media
You should never be the last to know when someone is talking about your company. Very simple google or twitter alerts should be set up of all relevant terms to your business. These alerts will then pop up in your inbox as soon as anything is written about these subjects. You’ll end up clearing out a lot of alerts, but they will be guaranteed to throw up something useful.
4. Find your Third Party Advocates
Who’s going to defend you when your company hits the rocks? Your company spokespeople will have a role to play, but crucially they will not be seen as impartial observers. The most valuable support will come from people with no direct financial interest in your business. Identify and get to know these people in advance. You’ll be surprised how many will spring to your defence in a crisis.
5. Be very careful off the recory
Nothing you say is ever off the record. Every email you write should have the words ‘press release’ at the top of it. The very simple rule is: if you wouldn’t be happy to stand up and defend your comments in a court of law you shouldn’t say it in the first place. If you don’t believe how damaging such comments can be just ask Mitt Romney.
6. Watch out for tremors
Before a crisis hits there are likely to be warning signs. It is important you are aware of these potential issues before they turn into a full blown crisis. Are there any changes in your industry? Have your opponents started to say things about you in the media? These are the sort of issues which can be very dangerous if left unattended.
7. Get to know your opponents
Nothing will disarm your opponents more than politeness and respect. Identify who’s leading the charge against your business and get to know them personally. Whilst you may not get them on side, they might give you advanced warning the next time they launch a campaign against you.
8. Know when to escalate
Not every incident will lead to a full blown crisis. If someone cuts their finger there’s no point in assembling your crisis team. However if their finger falls off, and your company is thought to be responsible, then you might escalate the incident to a crisis. A very simple chart as part of your crisis management plan can formalise your escalation process.
9. Learn from past mistakes
Getting caught out once is unfortunate. Getting caught out twice is careless. Your company will suffer much greater reputational damage if you’re seen to have not learnt from your past mistakes. After a crisis has passed, sit down with your crisis management team, understand what went wrong, and make sure it never happens again.
10. Test your crisis plan regularly
A crisis plan is useless if it sits on the top shelf gathering dust. You should review your crisis plan on a six monthly basis to ensure it is still relevant and up to date. The plan should be tested at least once a year to ensure your team has the confidence to carry out their roles. The most effective way to test your plan is through interactive crisis management scenarios, which ‘stress test’ your plan to ensure it is fully watertight when it matters most.