Scott Farrell is a leading expert in the area of crisis communications and issues management. As president of global corporate communications at GolinHarris, Scott has extensive experience building and enhancing brands while also protecting them when they are under attack. He works with his clients to develop and sustain corporate brands and reputations that distinguish companies from their competition, engage stakeholders in positive action and drive bottom line results.
In today’s business world, the cost of a crisis situation can be enormous: shattered trust with employees and business partners, market cap erosion, loss of permission to operate and more. With the speed and reach of social media (i.e., twitter, Facebook, etc.) now more than ever, executives and businesses need to ensure they are prepared to protect their reputation and brand at all times. And a corporation’s legal team must play an ever-more critical role in this preparation process. A “proactive” approach to crisis situations and working closely together with a team of crisis communication experts is often the best way to prepare for and respond to a crisis and begin the path toward restoring your client’s brand and reputation.
Why is communication between your legal team and communicators so important before and during a crisis situation?
- The first few hours of a crisis can often determine the trajectory of the situation.
- Today’s court of law and court of public opinion carry nearly equal weight with stakeholders.
- Handling victims insensitively or not at all can escalate visibility, cost and damage.
Creating a plan in advance of a crisis situation will ensure that your clients are prepared for anything and significantly improves their chances of maintaining a reputation they spent invaluable time and money creating. Here is an approach you can conduct with your client (and their communicators) before a crisis situation presents itself—we call this the SMART approach.
- SCENARIOS: Conduct a threat assessment to help the company’s leaders understand where crises can originate and how urgently they need to be addressed and scored on two scales 1) likelihood of occurrence; and 2) potential for damaging impact on the organization, including liability.
- MATERIALS: Prepare materials corresponding to priority scenarios, including manuals, dark sites, checklists and other templates (e.g. fact sheets, press releases, incident reports, message, call logs). Being involved in the preparation of materials and giving your pre-approval will cut time required for legal review during a crisis and ensure a timely, appropriate response once a crisis hits.
- APPROACH: By establishing criteria and thresholds for a given circumstances, you, your client and their communicators can identify and respond appropriately to reduce the potential severity and escalation of the situation.
- RESOURCES: Ensure all parties involved have access to appropriate resources. Even if you have a well coordinated plan, the crisis itself may hinder an organization from putting your plan into action. Be prepared by building alternative resources into your plan (e.g. war rooms, back-up locations, technology, dark sites), and assign a cross-functional crisis team to implement them.
- TRAIN: Practice makes perfect. Run drills of the potential situations. Vary each drill in severity, frequency and involvement based on the given scenarios.
Given the unexpected nature of crisis situations and the enormous potential for significant reputation damage, remember you can never be too prepared. As you move forward and counsel your clients, stay in close contact with communicators and keep the SMART approach in mind so that, when the time comes, you, your client and their communicators can minimize the damage and respond in a timely and appropriate fashion.