Plan for a crisis now – and spare the heartache
The Barclays crisis in which Britain’s third largest bank was fined £290million for fiddling the Libor rate and Bob Diamond eventually fell on his sword has been described as being ‘as bad as it gets.’
The storm which overwhelmed Barclays is an extreme example of how a crisis, however large or small, can severely damage the reputation of an organisation and its individuals.
Only too often we see a crisis unfolding and, with senior executives sent reeling on the back foot, you you can hear the cry from the boardroom: ‘Where is the crisis plan – and what does it look like?
However, by the time the crisis happens, it is too late to start planning. By that time you will be trying to recover, not manage, the situation, especially in these times of instant news and social media.
As Marvin Fitzwater, former White House press secretary, said: “Good crisis communications is based on a system already in place. When there is a crisis, you just tighten it up and make it better… a crisis is no time to design a new system.”
The objective of developing a plan while the company is not in crisis is to make sure that come the day and the hour there are clear processes in place.
An effective crisis management plan should, on a minimum level: document all relevant information coming in; control the flow of information going out; ensure consistency of messages; avoid contradiction and invention; be transparent, and minimise commercial risk.
In preparing a crisis plan, the most important place to start is internally – does everyone coming into contact with the public and the media know where to refer enquiries to?
Individuals addressing it should be able to answer these fundamental questions: what is the crisis?; who are the audiences?; how do we communicate with them and what do they want to know?
There are then practical matters – who will form the crisis team and what roles do we need, who will act as spokesperson, co-ordinator, on-the-ground support, what resources and facilities do we have and is the crisis team media trained?
Is everyone up to date with the plan, how strong are partnerships should we need them and does the plan have commitment from the top?
At Freshfield, we work with clients to prepare for a crisis before it happens. And we stress to senior management the importance of buy-in from the very top. This then filters all the way down to the front line, which in a crisis is where it very often matters most.
Commit now, prepare – and spare the heartache.