Getting your crisis message right is a year-long job

At a time when bad news has never travelled at such velocity, it would be logical for businesses to plan for the worst and make sure they can respond quickly to any emerging issue.

Most of the time, however, that’s not the case. While there are great examples of best practice in this area, many organisations still operate under the illusion a crisis can’t happen to them. If it does, they think they’ll be able to quickly rally the troops and respond effectively.

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Last week I delivered a workshop for communication and business continuity executives in Malaysia, on strategic crisis communication. It's a global reality that we're all juggling multiple issues every day. Managing potentially damaging issues is part of business as usual. On the other hand, no organisation can afford a fully-fledged crisis, when business as usual is shattered and there's long-lasting reputation damage.

Stopping an issue growing into a crisis can be a case of good luck, but more often it’s good management. Savvy organisations have sound practices so they can quickly identify emerging issues and address them before they get out of control.

And, if things do escalate to crisis mode, they also have well-rehearsed responses. They know who their spokespeople will be, and those individuals are well trained. Their social media teams have solid structures in place. They know their audiences well, they've thought through their key messages in the event of a crisis and they've worked hard to strengthen relationships with the key people and groups that can impact or be impacted by their business.

This is a year-round process; it’s not something that can be cobbled together once the global eyes of social media networks are upon you. Your ability to recover from a crisis depends on the speed and effectiveness of your response, along with your pre-existing reputation.

If your organisation is already considered on the nose because of previous incidents or mis-managed responses, you’ll have to work doubly hard to recover . If you botch the initial response, people will be less likely to forgive you and your brand in the long term.

Preparing for and responding to issues and crises can’t be a bolt-on to the rest of your business practices. In today’s digital world, these elements must form a core part of your operations. Many of the principles of good crisis and issues management equate to best practice communication throughout the year.

They also need to be a whole-of business-responsibility. This isn’t something that rests solely with the communications, customer service, human resources or business continuity team.

The good news is, if you’re lagging behind in this area you can start today to turn things around. Don’t delay any longer though. The future of your business depends on it.