Effective communication in a crisis can mean the difference between survival and failure. As your company's legal representative, you are likely to be involved in any crisis team and be looked to for advice as your company plans its response, so what should you look out for and how can you prepare?
What Is Crisis Management?
Unforeseen and unwelcome events can impact on an organization at any time. In some cases, you may have some warning (e.g., an industrial dispute or a failure in your supply chain), in others you won't. Natural disasters, accidents, stakeholder activism, crime, the loss of a key partner or contract and economic pressures are just some of the things that could precipitate a crisis situation that may cause damage to your reputation and lost earnings.
Crisis management involves:
Why Is Communication Important?
Communicating effectively and managing the messages you share with stakeholders, either directly or through the media, can mean the difference between customers, investors and the public staying with you or turning against you. In the event of a crisis materializing, one of the first things your crisis team needs to do is to create a mission statement, agreeing the team's purpose, objectives and the top two or three messages you want to share with your audience.
You then need to define all your audiences, including:
For each audience, you need to agree what the message should be and who is going to deliver it, how they will do this and when.
When doing this planning, bear in mind:
What Role Does Social Media Play?
The increased use of tools such as Twitter, which are not currently bound by the same reporting constraints as traditional media, can escalate crisis situations or even in some cases, cause them. Consumer and stakeholder activists can use Twitter to generate negative publicity about your organization that is then picked up in the conventional media.
If you're dealing with a crisis and Twitter can help, then use it. For example, Twitter updates from your corporate feed could provide affected customers with regular, reliable updates in the event of a service outage.
When briefing staff, you may wish to ask them to refrain from commenting on the situation on social media. Or, depending on the nature of the crisis, it may be appropriate to give them some guidelines about what they can say and encourage them to participate.
To help avoid a social medialed crisis, you may wish to consider investing in some simple online monitoring for your company name. Depending on the nature of your business, this may be best run by your marketing or customer service function and will give you an early indication of any stakeholder complaints that you may be able to address before they escalate.
Why Should the Legal Team Get Involved?
In the event of a crisis, it's likely that your company will be under greater public scrutiny and subject to more media coverage than normal. Depending on the situation, there may be legal or regulatory implications to consider in terms of what is said and what is reported. As well as advising on the content of messages from a legal perspective, you should also be monitoring what is being said about your organization by others so you can take action if necessary.
How Can I Prepare for a Crisis?
As the company's legal representative, you should be involved in contingency planning, which will allow your company to prepare for and practice responding in a crisis. Ask to see what contingency plans have been prepared for possible eventualities such as:
Also, consider any potential legal or regulatory threats, where you may be expected to lead the crisis team, such as:
Time spent considering what could happen, how you would react and who would need to be involved will make your reactions faster and more effective if the worst does happen
Lexis Practice Advisor® Canada’s In-House Counsel Desk
This article was brought to you by Lexis Practice Advisor® Canada’s In-House Counsel Desk.