Every company, large or small, runs the risk of a crisis. The forward-thinking ones won’t sit back and wait for the worst to happen. Progressive companies that are media savvy are resolutely proactive.
To control a crisis, organizations must be able to respond quickly as well as effectively. Delay in response erodes credibility. A bad scenario takes on additional dimensions until it just gets worse and worse. Indeed, the first fundamental rule is to take the lead and not just react to events as they unfurl. While no crisis plan is a single cure-all with the exact answers to either completely avoid a crisis or manage one if it occurs, a well-laid-out plan, in conjunction with media training, will provide the key elements to develop and deliver the right message quickly.
So what is a crisis, and how would your company fare in one?
A crisis is situation that has reached a critical phase for which dramatic and extraordinary intervention is necessary to avoid or repair major damage. Public life, of course, provides the obvious examples: the bedbug fiasco and Web security leaks.
While many hotel organizations have learned from these tragedies, many have yet to plan for the day when “it” happens to “us.”
Here’s a “how-not-to” list, with some of the most common strategic blunders:
1. No time, no plan. Many hotel organizations ignore crisis planning. When “it” does happen, the organization is unprepared and often reacts by going on the defensive, which is precisely the worst tactic amid a media-feeding frenzy. Organizations that disdain contingency plans are putting themselves in harm’s way. You know the saying, an ounce of prevention …
2. Missing the opportunity. It is by now commonplace that virtually every crisis carries within it the seeds of an opportunity. While this was a while ago, it is still a great example: Johnson & Johnson effectively used the Tylenol crisis as a way of deepening its brand and defining its brand as one of absolute safety and integrity.
Honestly addressing the issue at hand is a good first step. Apart from issues of confidentiality, privilege and liability, more direct communication about the truth is most often called for. This doesn't mean you don't develop messages for your spokespeople; it does mean your internal and external messages should be timely and consistent.
3. The sky is falling, the sky is falling. Unprepared hotel companies aren’t sure who’s supposed to do what in an emergency. A lack of role clarity almost guarantees confusion at a time when multiple sources are demanding answers. Being prepared means knowing, well in advance, who will communicate with employees, who will talk to customers and who will be comfortable handling the news media.
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4. Let’s give it a try. You have a plan, but will it work? How about a little role playing? A plan is only as good as its execution and should be tested, preferably in lifelike situations.
5. Who needs to know? Don't put the news media ahead of your own employees. Inform your people through internal communications so that they aren't learning the "facts" by watching TV or reading tabloids. In a world of instantaneous and global information flow, it is inexcusable to have employees become the last key public to get updated information.
6. We’ll wait and see. Any organization can identify likely scenarios that may attract significant media attention. Reporters’ questions can be anticipated with surprising accuracy, and basic answers can be prepared well in advance.
7. Here’s a 3,000-page document. Read it. Maybe there’s a ton of exculpatory material that will win your day in court. But the media doesn’t operate like that, and neither do your shareholders, employees or customers. Devise no more than a half-dozen lean message points that underscore your best position, and your strongest points.
8. Not knowing your brand. Is any company in a crisis given the benefit of the doubt today? Not likely. But firms that have established a positive brand position may recover more quickly in the public eye than firms with no brand equity at all.
Consider this useful exercise: Take a look at any ongoing public crisis. Rate how it’s being handled, in accordance with the points I’ve enumerated. Do the crisis managers seem prepared? Are their spokespersons well-chosen? Are their message points serving or disserving their interests?
Our guess is, you’ll find that, in most cases, companies are succeeding in some particulars and falling into real crisis mismanagement traps in other ways.
Elizabeth is the president of Elizabeth Lampert PR, a crisis communication and media strategist. She can be reached at 925-932-4420 and email@example.com.
Lara Cupit is a crisis communications and media specialist in the social and traditional areas of public relations. She can be reached at LaraCupit@gmail.com.
The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of HotelNewsNow.com or its parent company, Smith Travel Research and its affiliated companies. Columnists published on this site are given the freedom to express views that may be controversial, but our goal is to provoke thought and constructive discussion within our reader community. Please feel free to comment or contact an editor with any questions or concerns.