Thursday 21 June 2018

What You Need to Know When Disaster Strikes

I have been in this exact spot while enjoying vacations in Kelowna!

Written by Robyn T. Braley

How will you respond on the day the unthinkable happens to your business? There is seldom a warning when an unplanned event like a plant explosion, wildfire, flash flood, IT hack, financial crisis, death or pandemic happens.

Planning for disaster will reduce the impact and even help you manage the risk. Cleaning up the warehouse, properly storing flammable materials, clearing deadwood and debris from around your buildings, providing safety training for the staff or retaining qualified IT specialists are make-sense preventative actions.
But, the destruction of “things” is secondary. People’s lives – men, women, children, and families - can be destroyed in an instant. The lives they knew yesterday will never be the same the day after disaster strikes.

A Crises Communications Plan, even one roughed out on a coffee shop napkin, can save lives, keep your business operating and protect your company's reputation.  

Unspeakable Terror

My wife and I spent the weekend watching news coverage of evacuations from wildfires in Yellowknife, N.W.T. and the Shuswap and Okanagan regions of British Columbia. We were silent as we saw the images of the utter devastation following the rabid fires in Maui. 

An F4 tornado hit my hometown of Didsbury, Alberta in early July. The 275 km/h winds managed to throw a 10,000-kilogram combine at least 50 metres. A ranch and the house across the highway were completely destroyed. 

A herd of 20-plus cows was lifted from their corral and transported across the highway and just dropped. All dead. Others had to be euthanized because of materials like wood planks, glass, steel rods and other objects being driven through their bodies by the force of the weather. 

It Will Never Happen To My Company

A crisis communications plan is considered a luxury by many small businesses. Owners  think, “It will never happen to us!” And, then it does! 

The reality is that disaster can strike at any time. 

Hundreds, if not thousands, of Alberta businesses, experienced extreme loss and property destruction during the Calgary-High River flood of 2013. That was followed by an extreme snowstorm in 2014, the Fort McMurray wildfire in 2016 and the Corona Virus Pandemic of 2020. 

Wherever you are while reading this, I'm sure these examples bring to mind similar disasters that have happened in your region. 

Shock Value

When a disaster happens your body goes into shock. Adrenalin kicks in and you snap into crisis response mode. Having a structure to guide your next steps will allow you to go into 'robot' mode and do the things that need to be done in the order they need to be done. 

An Arial view of downtown Calgary in June, 2013

Offices, plants, infrastructure, vehicles and warehouses overflowing with inventory were destroyed. Valued employees were laid off and found jobs elsewhere because they needed paycheques.  

On the other side of the story, suppliers lost customers. Many had to deal with product surpluses like food that needed to be distributed immediately. 

Whatever the circumstance, you need to communicate, communicate, and then communicate some more in time of crisis. You need to get the right message out to the right people. 

What is Known 

In times of crisis, emphasis must be placed on showing compassion, concern, and leadership. You must communicate an air of confidence that your company has the ability to respond to adversity.
  • Clearly state what is known
  • Calm fears of the unknown
  • Demonstrate confidence to employees, customers, neighbors, and the community

Once Clients Leave

You may lose customers while your business is in limbo. Many businesses believe customer loyalty built through years of providing service excellence is all that is needed to keep them waiting while your company recovers. 

The reality is that they may not be able to wait. The need for whatever product or service you provide will drive them elsewhere to get it. 

Regular updates will keep customers informed and mitigate financial loses and help protect your brand and reputation. Once customers leave it is difficult to win them back. Regular updates will keep them engaged with your brand.
There is a time and place for hiring a communication professional to create a plan for your business and handle media engagement. However, if you are scooping out mud and crud, that option may not be realistic or affordable. 

Natural disasters strike with little warning. 

As soon as possible, find a quiet space and sketch out a communications plan. It doesn’t have to be highly sophisticated. 

Where To Start

1.    Identify a Crisis Communication Team (CCT). For small businesses, that might include the owner and their spouse or a key employee. Just talking about what to do will introduce an element of hope to the long process ahead.

For larger firms, the CCT might include the owner, general manager, accountant, sales manager, safety supervisor and outside service providers like lawyers and marketing consultants. Lean on the team whenever possible. 

2.    Create segmented contact lists. Segmentation allows you to send different messages to different people.
  • Employees
  • Customers
  • Suppliers
  • Business support team 
  • Business neighbors
  • Politicians
  • Media

3.    Input email addresses, home and business phone numbers, cell numbers and social media connections. Distribute electronic lists to members of the CCT and to a secure offsite computer. Print several hard copies and keep them in an accessible place. When you need these lists, you need them now. 

4.    Assign one authority figure, usually the owner or President, to be the spokesperson. That person will become the face of your business. Bring others into the process if specific expertise is required for additional commentary.

5.    Take care of yourself. Designate a plan “B” spokesperson and support team to make
the transition of key roles seamless while you get some rest. No one can be alert and in control for 60 hours straight. Make sure that the relief team is up-to-date with information. 

6.    Prepare a key message. Describe your situation to the best of your ability. Then state how you plan to respond. Bullet points will do.

·       Avoid speculation and never over reassure. It is much better to be realistic in managing expectations.
·      Tell people what to expect. “First this will happen, and then that. At this point we don’t know what the final outcome will be. However, these are the key issues that must be addressed at this time in order for us to move forward.”
·      Include links to your website in all emails as there are always media and customers  on your lists who do not know your full story.

7.    Make your website and social media platforms the anchor of your communications plan. Have up-to-date information about your business. Have your website designer create a media centre that can be updated regularly. A section on the home page for hourly updates is key.

8.  Include pertinent information like escape routes, muster points and other key information for employees in the overall plan. 

9.    Identify who will distribute emails and other messages whether that person is your spouse, executive assistant, or a member of the CCT.

10. Include guerrilla strategies like placing hand drawn posters in the window of your business like, "Closed! Gone Swimming" to add a bit of humor to a serious situation. This reflects your personality and will connect with passersby.  

Watching boats navigate the streets in your area is a shock!

Crises Media Plan

All forms of traditional and new media (social media, website) must be part of the program. These simple tips will improve the effectiveness of your response. 

1.    Inform staff that all media inquiries are to be directed to the designated spokesperson. The boys in the back may or may not be the best communicators or know the full story.

2.    The main points of your key message will now become your talking points. 

3.    Write a few sentences describing who you are, what you do, who you do it do, how you do it and why you do it. This will be your business profile. Always provide hard copies to  help reporters be accurate.

Social Media

For businesses, the medium should not be used without a plan. The day of the disaster is not the time to launch your social media strategy. If you do not have a company program, use your personal accounts.  

A company Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn profiles may be the most practical. ENews distribution by email is still the most used form of social media.

1.    Identify who will manage the accounts and compose the messages. It may be you, but you must make time for it.

2.    Understand the strength of social media. It is ideal for communicating small bits of information to large groups of people in a short period of time.

3.    Stick to updates of your key messages. Think in terms of telling parts of your story over a period of time which may be hours, days or a week as your situation dictates. 

4.    Be careful what you tweet. Keep emotions and personal opinions out of your messages. Once it’s out there, you can never get it back. 

5.    Be careful what you share. Think beyond the immediate. Multiple photos showing the complete devastation of your business may generate immediate sympathy but may also play into your competitor’s hands at a later date.

6.    Use humor carefully. Humor can be a powerful tool but can make you seem insensitive if read out of context. 

7.    Assign an employee or member of your CCT to take photos of employees overcoming difficulties, serving customers “no matter what,” or smiling in the face of adversity. Photos are the common currency of all social media.

8.    If mainstream media covers your story, tweet, facebook, or email links to the story to your contact lists for added synergy.

9.    To prepare for 'that' day, follow, like or connect with as many people in your contact lists as possible.  

I want to hear from you. Have you survived a disaster? What tips would you give? What would you do or not do if a crisis happend again?  

The End

Robyn T. Braley is a brand specialist, writer, and speaker. He is a media commentator and co-owns UniMark Creative which designs websites, produces videos, provides media services and graphic design. He speaks about improving personal communications and maximizing the power of personal and company brands.

Contact Robyn

Twitter: @RobynTBraley 

Relevant Brandit Posts 

10 Tips for Staying Motivated in Extremely Unmotivating Times 

Thinking As If There is no Box; 10 Marketing Tips for Tough Times

10 Tips For Bootstrapping With Broken Laces

No comments:

Post a Comment