September is coming and it’s time to dust off those emergency plans. Schools have just mailed out their reminders of what to do during “code red.” But does your organization have a brand emergency plan? Years of good work with customers and your community can be eclipsed very quickly by a few misspoken words by a board member, or a complaint floating around in social media.
The simple answer is that you’ve spent years, perhaps decades or even centuries, building up your brand. And yet in an instant it can be destroyed. So when complicated issues arise, such as an unexpected firing, natural or man-made disasters, public health concerns, etc., it’s important to have a plan for how you will brief all staff, board members and volunteers on how to handle potential questions from customers, supporters, the community and the press. That might just mean responding with a very brief factual answer and then providing contact information to the questioner so they can refer additional questions to the communications liaison, CEO’s office, or the Chair of the Board.
What’s in the Plan?
It’s not a question of hiding information, but rather of giving it out in a way that is unified and easy to understand. Most importantly, the way information is communicated, as well as the content of that information, contributes to how your brand is perceived. “No comment” is a deadly answer. And blogs and the 24-hour news cycle can make other voices louder than perhaps their numbers truly reflect. Your Brand Emergency Communications Plan should include how to respond to:
-traditional print media
-cable news and radio
You should also be able to proactively post information to your:
-Facebook or MySpace pages
And be prepared to send email announcements or texts to update your community of supporters.
Who Executes the Plan?
The days of the communications office controlling the message are over. The message is already out there, especially if it involves some catastrophe related to your brand. So you need to have well-briefed team to help you engage in the conversation and include your information and perspective. For a nonprofit, this team can include not just executive level and communications staff, but also board leadership and key volunteers. In for-profit organizations, important customers may be recruited to assist in disseminating the message. Government agencies need to engage their counterparts in the private sector, depending on the issue at hand, to ensure effective response to an emergency.
So just like your home or school, this fall your place of business should practice its emergency communications procedures on a regular basis, so that when the time comes, you are able to quickly implement your plan.
Have a recent brand crisis that put your plan into action? Please share!