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It may not be the zombie apocalypse, but it doesn't hurt to treat your preparation like it might be.
Putting together a crisis plan should be like preparing for a zombie apocalypse. You hope you never have to use all those supplies you’ve stockpiled, but if the time comes, it’s essential to have everything ready for any eventuality. Your preparation plan probably has all of the basics for dealing with a crisis: food, water, shelter, maybe a crossbow, but it will inevitably be missing something you wish you had thought of before the dead rose up.
While I have not had to survive a hoard of zombies, I have had to put my company’s crisis plan to the test several times. Historically our crisis plan has had all of the essentials, but after each crisis settles there was always something new to add to the manual. Here are some of those things that you might want to consider:
1. A crisis leader.
You’re not going to survive the end of the world by yourself. You need a team of people with skills necessary to handle the immediate event and give yourself the best chance to thrive going forward. A farmer will think about a sustainable food source, a scientist will search for a cure, and a soldier will protect the team. But who will lead the group?
Your crisis plan already has a team assigned to complete the task list you’ve put together, but does it have someone assigned to lead the team and ensure the plan is executed fully? The leader should be someone who remains calm in a high-stress situation and can command and organize a room of people who may not be so calm. They should not have any, or very few, tasks on your list so they can focus on the organization of the team and the plan as a whole.
At the end of the crisis, they should lead the team through a post-mortem assessment and update the plan based on what the assessment has revealed. The leader is not someone with a specific title, instead it’s someone with the right set of characteristics. It also makes sense for this leader to own the crisis plan and be responsible for ensuring it is up to date.
2. Crisis detection tools and procedures.
The success of your response hinges on having the tools and procedures in place to detect a crisis early. Along with identifying the crises most likely to affect your brand and having communication plans ready for those crises, you need to think about an early detection plan for each as well. The method of detection will depend on the type of crisis.
In my experience, we benefit from having a strong social-media listening program both for our brand and other brands in our category. Also key is having clear and quick escalation procedures on the customer service team not only for product issues but for inquiries by the media as well.
We have a clear communication channel for the media that’s listed on our website, but I find reporters often contact the brand through customer service. They will submit a web form request at noon and state that they have a 3:00 pm deadline. Not surprisingly, their article frequently states that “the company could not be reached for comment.” Sometimes these contacts have been the first and only warning we have that a story was going to be released.
3. Necessary resources and references (and where to find them).
When a crisis hits, the speed of your response is crucial. You waste valuable time running around looking for the person who knows how to get into the back end of your website to make updates or for the passwords to your social-media accounts, as the marketer responsible for them is on vacation.
Take time to make a list of everything you might need to access and where those passwords or other references are stored. Now that you have them, does everyone know where they are? What good is having a bunker filled with tools to survive the apocalypse if you do not have the map to get there? Every member of my crisis team has a binder filled with procedures, contact information, passwords, communication templates, etc. In that binder are also instructions for where they can find the most recent versions of those references.
4. An internal customer response team.
I manage a very small team of consumer engagement specialists. If our contact volume surges because of a crisis, they are very quickly overwhelmed. Having an external call center to access in times of crisis is necessary, but they can take time to get ramped up. So, we have a team of internal employees that receive training once a year to engage with customers during various crisis situations. These employees have positions in the company that give them the flexibility to shift duties temporarily in the event they are needed. They also remain calm in stressful situations and have excellent communication skills. To give this team a place to work, our IT team is prepared to quickly turn a conference room into a crisis contact center.
5. Review and practice.
Just like you do not want to find spoiled food when you open your survival kit, you do not want to find outdated information when you open your crisis plan. The person responsible for managing the crisis plan should review the plan at frequent, set intervals. Our overall crisis plan is reviewed on a yearly basis, but the contact lists for the crisis team and external agencies are reviewed quarterly.
Finally, practice your plan. Conduct mock crisis exercises yearly if you can. Ask your insurance carriers if they provide any training funds that you can use to bring in an agency to help you conduct these exercises. These drills make your crisis team stronger and better prepared to deal with a real crisis when it strikes.
It's far more likely that your brand will face a crisis than a zombie apocalypse. So be proactive; dust off your crisis plans and take a look before you need them. In the age of social media, it’s more important than ever for companies to be ready to give quick and genuine response to their customers. Be ready to get your message out to the public before the public decides to create its own.
is the consumer experience manager at Beech-Nut Nutrition, a company based in Upstate New York that makes real food for babies. She manages the consumer engagement team and the VOC program. She also serves as the corporate crisis coordinator and has guided the company through a product recall and multiple PR crises. She’s most passionate about the initiatives she has led to help Beech-Nut become a more socially sustainable company and active in their community.