Who would want to be working at BP right now? Or at Toyota? Maybe at Goldman Sachs? All three of these companies have had a brutal time in the media spotlight, subject to huge fines/lawsuits, and a loss of public confidence. These companies may have had a crisis communications plan in place, but their company officials did not effectively implement the plan. The results were disastrous in terms of lost credibility and financial loss.
But these are massive companies, what does that have to do with small to mid-sized business? To a lesser extent, but no less damaging, small business can suffer the same sort of negative publicity, but lack the resources to manage or even sustain the loss of public confidence. Entrepreneurs take many years to build up a brand for their product or service, and usually set their companies apart through excellent customer service. The image of the company is its brand. All of this can come crashing down in a matter of days, especially in light of the instantaneous nature of social networks.
Take for example, a restaurant. It may serve excellent food, at reasonable prices, with great service to match. But it may also experience growing pains, not adequately hiring and training staff. Suppose there is an outbreak of some food-borne illness related to improper food storage and hand-washing of its employees? What then? This type of negative publicity could perpetually stain the brand of this restaurant.
All companies should have a well-thought out crisis communications plan. There are three parts to this plan:
- The Planning Stage – Think of Murphy’s Law. What could possibly go wrong? Who will be the spokesperson? All employees should be trained to refer all media and interview requests to this person.
- The Crisis – How often will the company spokesperson speak to the press? What can they highlight to demonstrate that the company is committed to resolving this issue?
- The Aftermath – What steps can the company take to restore confidence in its brand?
So there is “good” PR and “bad” PR, and the goal should be to put out as much positive news as possible to minimize the damage of the negative story. Negative publicity is never good (unless you are a musician or actor seeking street credibility), and in order to weather the storm, a business needs to have a clear cut plan and stick to it!