5 steps to building a crisis plan

The United States’ food supply is one of the safest, most abundant and affordable in the world. Could anything change this? And would we be ready to address consumer concerns related to that change? A crisis, whether a food recall or life-threatening health concern, now spreads through social media and the 24-hour news cycle quicker than an actual virus. The Ebola outbreak was the first time the U.S. monitored travelers at airports and in 2019, the African Swine Fever shut down trade and the borders for animal agriculture. Now, enter the coronavirus strain, formally known as COVID-19. Do you have a crisis plan?

How will 24/7 news access cause a trickle-down effect on the supply chain? Consumers are stocking up on pantry items, toilet paper and cold medicine, while universities, schools and offices are going “remote,” conferences are being cancelled and sports teams from local to national levels are canceling games or playing without fans. As financial markets and purchasing behaviors change, it’s important to have plans in place and at-the-ready to implement.

In the event COVID-19 begins to impact your company and/or supply chain, what’s your message to your employees, customers and consumers? Do you have a crisis plan? You can and you should.

The best time to start managing a crisis is before it ever happens. Major brands like Starbucks, Target and Southwest Airlines have issued news releases to communicate with their stakeholders about preparations to minimize risk. In times like these, your stakeholders are anxious and want to know you have a plan and are ready to act if the situation deteriorates.

Here’s how to get started:

  • Identify potential vulnerabilities and previous crises​. Assess the company’s history and create a list of potential new issues that could cause a disruption to the business or concern for customers.
  • Identify stakeholders impacted by vulnerabilities​. For each issue on your list, outline who has potential to be affected by the scenario. This could be consumers, employees or even animals under your care, depending on your organization.
  • Identify a crisis response team. Make a list of the critical players that will respond. Depending on the crisis, a spokesperson may need to be identified and even trained. The list should include company leadership, communications/public relations, sales/marketing and often, legal counsel. During the first sixty minutes of a crisis, known as “the golden hour,” perceptions will form quickly and the crisis response team will only get one chance to earn the confidence of their stakeholders.
  • Document protocols in a crisis manual​. Once your potential vulnerabilities, stakeholders and response teams are identified, document them in a crisis manual that is periodically reviewed and kept up-to-date. Each crisis is different and will warrant a different message and response. Conduct trainings and mock-drills to keep your team ready for a response.
  • Communicate. Communicate. Communicate. In the absence of communication, people fear the worst. Proactively and transparently communicate to your employees and customers to make sure they have relevant information that is clear, states facts, and does not introduce conjecture. When a crisis could have been prevented, it is important to authentically communicate responsibility and remorse, directly discuss how the situation has been resolved, and lay out the recovery plan to eliminate the potential for the situation to recur.

A crisis can happen to anyone and can change your company’s future in an instant. A reputation that’s taken decades to build can be negatively impacted overnight. If you need help getting started with crisis planning, messaging strategy and/or media training, please reach out. We’ll be happy to help.