Crisis Management – Predict, Plan and Execute
By Brad MacAfee, Executive Vice President, Porter Novelli Atlanta
Just about every Atlanta-area executive has spent some time playing Monday morning quarterback in regards to ChoicePoint, a company that is still making headlines six weeks after revealing it had fallen victim to identity thieves. What many of those observing from the outside might not have is a strategic plan to manage their own potential crisis situation.
In the high-tech sector, the risks are constant, and all-too-similar to the ChoicePoint scenario. Hacking, theft of data or intellectual property, and the threat of extortion for stolen information, are all part of the cost of doing business in the technology field. And those risks are in addition to any number of internal crises tech CEOs must be prepared for, including product development delays, software defects, or unexpected quarterly financials.
While a crisis can come from any number of events, it is how you deal with it that forms the lasting impression in the public’s memory. If you want to know your firm will respond in a way that gives the best impression possible, the best thing to do is to have a crisis management plan in place before something occurs. When constructing that plan, CEOs should stick to the essential tasks – predict, plan and, when a crisis arrives, execute.
- PREDICT: Playing close attention to news and events in your market area is a key part of predicting how and when the next crisis may occur. If someone with a malicious intent caused a crisis situation at a competitor, know that there is at least some risk of that same event happening to you. When counseling clients, our firm, for instance, uses extensive research database and news service capabilities to stay on top of the issues and well of ahead of a client crisis.
- PLAN: Develop a “black box” plan that assesses how you will handle a particular crisis. Events should be broken down into two types of scenarios: those that have not made their way to the media, and those that have become or are just about to become public knowledge. For the former, your plan must address ways to prevent or minimize leaks. For the latter, it is essential to plan for effective management of the news cycle – it could be the difference between having a story on page one for a few days or a few weeks. Having spokespeople selected and trained in advance can go a long way in determining how well the news cycle is managed.
- EXECUTE: This is the step that tells how your company will be remembered in years to come. Your spokespeople, your executives, and the rest of the company will have had access to the parts of the plan relevant to them, and your company can rely on having consistent messaging that displays an appropriate response to a crisis situation.
In the end, companies that have taken the correct steps in crisis management will find that they can protect a company brand and preserve its value in any business cycle.