Sunday, August 02, 2009

Steps to Surviving a Crisis and Maintaining a Positive Reputation

Between personnel strikes, plane crashes and chemical spills, Boeing Commercial Airplanes has experienced their fair share of crisis, making Peter Conte and Jim Proulx, very experienced in crisis communication planning.

Peter Conte and Jim Proulx, leaders of Boeing Commercial Airplanes’ communications and media teams, broke down the 12 steps to preparing for a crisis and creating a reaction plan during July’s PRSA Program.

“The best way to respond is to be prepared,” said Peter, manager of the Boeing Everett site’s communication team.

The first two steps of being prepared are to know what a crisis is and then to define what a crisis is for your organization or what it would take to be considered a crisis situation. It is important to understand and examine what events could cause media or public interest for your organization.

The third step in plan preparation would be to set communication objectives. What do you want your crisis plan to achieve? Jim and Peter provided some great examples such as “alleviate employees’ and community members’ concerns.”

Peter said the fourth step, identifying your audiences, is important because “what and how you communicate could change depending on the audience.” What is said to your external audiences may need to be different than what is said to your internal audiences.

Step five has to do with the roles and responsibilities of certain members of the organization. What should others be doing in response to the crisis and who will be the spokesperson?

Steps six and seven deal with the notification and communication processes. It is important to determine how you should be notified of a crisis, and in turn, who you should notify. Often time, the media may be the first to notify you of a crisis situation.

“The media want the most information when you have the least,” said Jim, manager of a communications team leading Media Relations for Boeing Commercial Airplanes. He said it is perfectly acceptable to tell the media you will get right back to them once you have all the necessary facts. Once you know all there is to know, it is crucial your response follows a step-by-step procedure based on the established roles and responsibilities.

Step eight, identify the spokesperson, is crucial because you need to know who is going to be the person speaking on behalf of the organization during a time of crisis. Will it be the Government Affairs or Human Resources leader? Jim and Peter also mentioned that it is important to consider the ‘surprise’ spokesperson. The cashier at Starbucks, for example, make sure they know what to say and have the correct contact information to pass on to the media.

The next step during a crisis would be to determine the key messages and plan for the release of the information. What do you want to be said about your organization and who do you want to say it to? Peter and Jim suggest prioritizing your media contacts. Don’t reach out to whoever contacted you first, seek out those who reach your target audience.

Step eleven suggests using tools to improve your responses. Your plan should include tools such as phone lists and incident information sheets.

The final step includes checking and improving your plan. A real crisis presents an opportunity to improve your plan and learn lessons. A crisis plan should constantly be updated and ready for use.

Jim and Peter provided many great examples of crisis preparation and with these steps, any organization should be able to create a crisis plan that can be implemented during their own time of need. After all, a crisis plan should be created during peacetime, so you are ready for war, said Jim.