Thursday, 21 June 2018

What Will Your Business Look Like the Day After Disaster

Houses burn during the devastating forest wildfire in
Fort McMurray, Alberta in 2016


Written by Robyn T. Braley

What will your business look like that day after the unthinkable happens to your business. There is seldom a warning for the explosion, the fire, the flash flood, the IT hack, the financial crisis or the death happens.


In most cases, planning for disaster will reduce the impact or even eliminate it entirely. Cleaning up the warehouse, properly storing flammable materials,  training the staff or hiring qualified IT specialists are make-sense preventative actions.     


A Crises Communications Plan, even one roughed out on a coffee shop napkin, can save lives, keep your business operating and protect your company's reputation.  

But, the destruction of “things” is secondary. People’s lives – men, women, children, and families - can be destroyed in an instant. The lives they knew yesterday will never be the same.


It Will Never Happen


A crises communications plan is considered a luxury by many small businesses. They think, “It will never happen to us!” 

When disaster happens to you your body goes into shock. Adrenalin kicks in and you snap into crisis response mode. Having a structure to guide your next steps will allow you to go into 'robot' and just follow the plan to do the things that need to be done. 

Hundreds, if not thousands, of Alberta businesses experienced extreme loss through through the destruction of their property during the Calgary - High River flood of 2013, the extreme snow storm in 2014 and the Fort McMurray wildfire in 2016. 

Offices, plants, infrastructure, vehicles and warehouses stuffed with inventory were destroyed. Valued employees were laid off and found jobs elsewhere because they needed pay cheques.  


An Arial view of downtown Calgary in June, 2013

On the other side, suppliers lost customers. Many had to deal with product surpluses like food that needed to be distributed immediately. 

Whatever the circumstance, you need to communicate, communicate, and then communicate some more in time of crisis. You need to get the right message out to the right people. 


What is Known


In times of crisis, emphasis must be placed on showing compassion, concern, and leadership. You must communicate an air of confidence that your company has the ability to respond to adversity.
  • Clearly state what is known
  • Calm fears of the unknown
  • Demonstrate confidence to employees, customers, neighbors, and the community

Once They Leave


Never think customers will never leave while your business is in limbo. Many businesses believe customer loyalty built through years of providing service excellence is all that is needed to keep them waiting while you get your company operational again. 

The reality is that they may not be able to wait. The need for whatever product or service you provide will drive them elsewhere to get it. 

Regular updates will keep customers informed and mitigate financial loses and help protect your brand and reputation. Once customers leave it is difficult to win them back. Regular updates will keep them engaged with your brand.
  
There is a time and place for hiring a communication professional to create a plan for your business and handle media engagement. However, if you are scooping out mud and crud, that option may not be realistic or affordable. 


Natural disasters strike with little warning. 



As soon as possible, find a quiet space and sketch out a communications plan. It doesn’t have to highly sophisticated. 

Where To Start


1.    Identify a Crisis Communication Team (CCT). For small businesses, that might include the owner and their spouse or a key employee. Just talking about what to do will introduce an element of hope to the long process ahead.

For larger firms, the CCT might include the owner, general manager, accountant, sales manager, safety supervisor and outside service providers like lawyers and marketing consultants. Lean on the team whenever possible. 

2.    Create segmented contact lists. Segmentation allows you to send different messages to different people.
  • Employees
  • Customers
  • Suppliers
  • Business support team 
  • Business neighbors
  • Politicians
  • Media

3.    Input email addresses, home and business phone numbers, cell numbers and social media connections. Distribute electronic lists to members of the CCT and to a secure offsite computer. Print several hard copies and keep them in an accessible place. When you need these lists, you need them now. 

4.    Assign one authority figure, usually the owner or President, to be the spokesperson. That person will become the face of your business. Bring others into the process if specific expertise is required for additional commentary.

5.    Take care of yourself. Designate a plan “B” spokesperson and support team to make
the transition of key roles seamless while you get some rest. No one can be alert and in control for 60 hours straight. Make sure that the relief team is up-to-date with information. 

6.    Prepare a key message. Describe your situation to the best of your ability. Then state how you plan to respond. Bullet points will do.

      
·       Avoid speculation and never over reassure. It is much better to be realistic in managing expectations.
·      Tell people what to expect. “First this will happen, and then that. At this point we don’t know what the final outcome will be. However, these are the key issues that must be addressed at this time in order for us to move forward.”
·      Include links to your website in all emails as there are always media and customers  on your lists who do not know your full story.

7.    Make your website and social media platforms the anchor of your communications plan. Have up-to-date information about your business. Have your website designer create a media centre that can be updated regularly. A section on the home page for hourly updates is key.

8.  Include pertinent information like escape routes, muster points and other key information for employees in the overall plan. 

9.    Identify who will distribute emails and other messages whether that person is your spouse, executive assistant, or a member of the CCT.

10. Include guerrilla strategies like placing hand drawn posters in the window of your business like, "Closed! Gone Swimming" to add a bit of humor to a serious situation. This reflects your personality and will connect with passersby.  

Watching boats navigate the streets in your area is a shock!

Crises Media Plan


All forms of traditional and new media (social media, website) must be part of the program. These simple tips will improve the effectiveness of your response. 

1.    Inform staff that all media inquiries are to be directed to the designated spokesperson. The boys in the back may or may not be the best communicators or know the full story.

2.    The main points of your key message will now become your talking points. 

3.    Write a few sentences describing who you are, what you do, who you do it do, how you do it and why you do it. This will be your business profile. Always provide hard copies to  help reporters be accurate.

Social Media


For businesses, the medium should not be used without a plan. The day of the disaster is not the time to launch your social media strategy. If you do not have a company program, use your personal accounts.  

A company Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn profiles may be the most practical. ENews distribution by email is still the most used form of social media.

1.    Identify who will manage the accounts and compose the messages. It may be you, but you must make time for it.

2.    Understand the strength of social media. It is ideal for communicating small bits of information to large groups of people in a short period of time.

3.    Stick to updates of your key messages. Think in terms of telling parts of your story over a period of time which may be hours, days or a week as your situation dictates. 

4.    Be careful what you tweet. Keep emotions and personal opinions out of your messages. Once it’s out there, you can never get it back. 

5.    Be careful what you share. Think beyond the immediate. Multiple photos showing the complete devastation of your business may generate immediate sympathy but may also play into your competitor’s hands at a later date.

6.    Use humor carefully. Humor can be a powerful tool but can make you seem insensitive if read out of context. 

7.    Assign an employee or member of your CCT to take photos of employees overcoming difficulties, serving customers “no matter what,” or smiling in the face of adversity. Photos are the common currency of all social media.

8.    If mainstream media covers your story, tweet, facebook, or email links to the story to your contact lists for added synergy.

9.    To prepare for 'that' day, follow, like or connect with as many people in your contact lists as possible.  

I want to hear from you. Have you survived a disaster? What tips would you give? What would you do or not do if a crisis happend again?  


The End


Robyn T. Braley is a brand specialist, writer, and speaker. He is a media commentator and co-owns UniMark Creative which designs websites, produces videos, provides media services and graphic design. He speaks about improving personal communications and maximizing the power of personal and company brands.


Contact Robyn



Twitter: @RobynTBraley 


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