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How to get senior management to take notice of your crisis communication plan
By Kim Harrison,
Consultant, Author and Principal of www.cuttingedgepr.com
Since 9/11, the world has become a more dangerous place. Every day we see in the media the latest terrorism incident that has been thwarted or happened in countries around the world. And, of course, there are all the types of corporate crises that could happen, many related to the Internet and information technology.
According to a September 2006 poll conducted by Harris Interactive of senior executives in large corporations, the top crisis situations that worry corporate executives were:
61% compromise of corporate information systems
40% corporate wrongdoing
32% environmental mishaps
30% negative claims about products, health or safety
29% Internet rumors and misinformation
24% industrial accidents
23% product contamination or tampering
21% product recalls
19% workplace violence
Whether you are inhouse or a consultant, crises are relevant to you as a communicator because crises are largely about the perceptions of stakeholders. Operational managers can deal with operational emergencies, but crises happen when emergency incidents impact on stakeholders, whose actions can affect the ability of your organization to survive. That’s where you come in – to communicate with key stakeholder groups such as employees, customers, shareholders, government regulators and suppliers.
This is what I am doing this week (apart from writing this article, of course!). In my contract role with a large engineering firm, I am responsible for “the communication, maintenance and updating” of the company’s regional crisis plan. The company hasn’t had a crisis plan in place at State level before, so I have prepared a plan according to the company’s national template. Having done this, I will brief all staff about their role in a crisis, conduct workshops for relevant managers and arrange a crisis simulation. This is easy to arrange because our parent company is insisting on the preparation. (Of course, every project has its own site emergency management plan in place.)
It’s not easy to get senior management to actively support crisis communication plans. Most of them don’t want to know about crises. They know the chance of being caught up in a crisis is tiny and they don’t want to take time away from their daily work priorities to deal with something that just might happen one day, and then again, it might not. And crisis preparation costs money in staff time, in equipment and other resources.
What’s more, many executives perceive crises and emergencies only in terms of an operational response (“put the fire out and return to full operations ASAP”). They look at communication only as an afterthought to the real work. This is an extremely frustrating attitude to encounter. Those executives will need to be convinced of the impact on your organization’s operations and therefore profitability before they take full notice of your communication plan. (In a government agency the discussion would need to be about the impact on output and the fallout from politicians to a public shambles.)
One fatal assumption many organizations make is to think their own IT and server will be available during a crisis. You need to ensure you can communicate with key stakeholders from your back up system for a significant time during a crisis. Lack of thought in this area could come back to bite you. Save your crisis response material on a separate server and regularly update it so that you can use it during a crisis, even from other premises.
A great crisis communication plan is only as good as the extent to which it is implemented. Here are some ideas to get senior management to respect your crisis communication plan and support its implementation:
About the Author
Kim Harrison is a recognized authority in the public relations field. His website, www.cuttingedgepr.com, provides a wealth of informative articles and resources on public relations techniques and management.
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