• 07Oct

    Effective crisis communications includes means having a plan in place to deal with an emergency BEFORE the emergency hits. You don’t necessary need to think of every possible crisis, but you should have some basic fire drill procedures in place in case of a corporate crisis or a scandal or some other eventuality. That includes establishing a protocol to designate a leader in time of crisis. You need to find someone who has a clear head and can deal with the crisis clearly and efficiently. However, your designated hitter may not be available when you need them. So you need to have a pinch hitter ready when you need him or her. If you have a smaller organization and the boss becomes unavailable, it’s even more important to have a responsible alternative spokesperson at the ready.

    The trained spokespersons from “The Russians are Coming the Russians are Coming”

    I saw a blog post this week from Jamillah Warner posted on Small Business Trends who offers a “3 Steps to Developing an Emergency Chain of Command for Your Business.” Jamillah offers a solid formula for establishing an emergency protocol quickly and efficiently that mirrors the best practices I recommend to my clients.

    Step 1: Define the emergency.

    This is not as easy as it sounds. It’s simple to think of fire, flood, pestilence, and other natural disasters, since they affect everyone. But it isn’t a real crisis unless there is a victim, or someone who has been perceived to have been harmed in some way. And by their nature, a crisis just happens; you can’t plan for it. So you need to be prepared for any eventuality. When the crisis strikes, you need to have an emergency plan ready, and a spokesperson in place to allay the fears of your customers and deal with the media.

    Step 2. Choose your leaders before you need them.

    When a crisis hits, you don’t want to waste time trying to sort out how to react. Any hesitation is seen as a failure or a chance to “cover up,” whether there is wrongdoing or not. It’s better to assign responsibility in advance. Choose your crisis leaders, define their roles, and train them in advance. And keep the information fresh with regular reminders and meetings. This transfers responsibility to those who need to be prepared should a crisis arise, and makes them feel ready.

    Step 3. Practice, practice, and practice some more.

    There is a reason why fire marshals insist on regular fire drills and emergency services train using mock disasters. It’s because practice makes perfect. Review possible crisis scenarios. Explore appropriate procedures and responses. Let people practice how to respond to an emergency. If you practice regularly, you give your leaders a chance to grow comfortable with handling any type of emergency. You also imprint positive habits and make it easier for the staff to rise to meet the challenge of an emergency. And if you choose the wrong crisis managers, then drills will reveal any problems and give you a chance to correct those problems or find a new leader.

    Crisis communications is too often overlooked, especially by smaller businesses who don’t think they need to be prepared. Everyone needs to be prepared in case of an emergency. Your business could be hit by fire, theft, fraud, or any number of things, and without a crisis plan, the impact could cost your business. You can start by designating the right people to handle emergencies so you can protect your operation.

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  • 27Jul

    We seem to be up to our ears in media scandals these days. From the News of the World hacking scandal to the latest bad-boy behavior in Washington, D.C., the market seems ripe for experts in crisis communications.

    Which is why I was heartened to read in Entrepreneur magazine’s “Daily Dose” this week profiling the proactive action that Blake Mycoskie, founder and “Chief Shoe Giver” of TOMS Shoes, took to deal with his own communications crisis. Blake Mycoskie of TOMS Shoes

    It seems that following a successful presentation at this year’s SXSW Interactive Conference, Mycoskie was asked to speak to a Christian organization called Focus on the Family. During his SXSW speech, Mycoskie talked about launching TOMS shoes as a socially responsible company that has been providing free footwear to impoverished children around the globe. After speaking to Focus on the Family, Christianity Today wrote an article suggesting that TOMS Shoes had forged an alliance with the Christian group, which had a firm stance against abortion and same-sex marriage; positions that were in direct opposition to Mycoskie’s equality message, and the foundation message for TOMS Shoes.

    Here’s where Mycoskie demonstrates that he and his PR team are on the ball.

    Rather than trying to sweep the accusations under the carpet or point fingers at Christianity Today, Mycoskie took to the web to issue an apology and get the attention, and ultimately support, of his critics.

    He turned to Facebook and Twitter to listen to outraged customers and hear their complaints, and respond.

    He worked with Ms.Magazine to launch a petition to Change.org in favor of , coincidentally on the eve of passage of same-sex  marriage law in New York (a large market for TOMS). Mycoskie was quick to issue his own apology to set the record straight.

    He issued a written heart-felt apology on his own blog, stating:

    When I accept an invitation for a public speaking engagement, my purpose is to share the TOMS story and our giving mission. In no way do I believe that this means I endorse every single aspect of the organization I am speaking to. That may be naïve, and you may disagree, but it is my sincere belief.

    TOMS and I have made mistakes internally and externally over the past several weeks, and I am deeply sorry for letting you down. We have learned a lot and are taking steps so that they do not happen again. I regret that I, and many of you, have been pulled into this issues debate as a result – which was never our intention. However, my biggest regret is that the controversy has disrupted our effort to convene people of good will around our similarities rather than our differences, so that we can join together in serving those in the greatest need while inspiring others to do the same.

    Once he inadvertently put his foot in it by speaking before an audience with a contrary political agenda, Mycoskie did everything right in extricating himself from the mess:

    • He immediately started talking to his followers and his customers to gather information and get feedback. Social media has become a terrific forum to establish immediate customer dialogue.
    • He was proactive in taking charge of the crisis, admitting his error in judgment, and setting the record straight, without laying blame or finger-pointing.
    • He took personal responsibility, stepping forward to face the music and accept responsibility without hiding behind corporate mouthpieces or minions.
    • He was sincere and empathetic in his apology to his followers.

    The result has been positive to Mycoskie and TOMS Shoes. The executive comes across as a straight-shooter and a mensch who made an error in judgment. The response was cogent, rational, and appropriately apologetic and sincere. If anything, this crisis has strengthened TOMS Shoes’ brand image and brought in even more customers while restoring the faith of his followers.

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