CGM blog: Crisis, what crisis?

Shhh. Can you hear the silence?

Suddenly all those political would-be red tape cutters have gone quiet since the Grenfell Tower fire.

Why? Because regulation and safety after the fact (and we’re yet to discover the true facts) doesn’t bring back lives.

The most important factor when dealing with a crisis is anticipation – hoping for the best but preparing for the worst.

Crises usually happen when we least expect them (at Grenfell it seems there were warnings which will now come under judicial scrutiny) – that’s why having a plan to manage a crisis is all important.

So how come so many of us skate through business life on the seats of our pants?

The smaller you are, the more prone you are to a fatal crisis – 80 percent of micro businesses that suffer a crisis cease trading within two years and that figure rises to 90 per cent if it involves data security.

The most important factor is loss of trust.

A 2015 survey of 500 top US business leaders found the characteristics they cherished most in people they did business with went in this order: reputation, integrity, trust, ethics, image and capability.

That’s right. Character counts more than ability. If people don’t trust you, why would they do business with you?

So why wouldn’t you have a plan to defend your reputation in case things go wrong?

We all know news can spread like wildfire. Our company was recently involved in a situation with a client which had nothing to do with their business – but a vicious, factually incorrect, allegation circulated on social media.

It took two days to quell. Fortunately, that business had a plan in place and experts they could call on. Most don’t – fewer than 50 per cent of UK business have a crisis plan let alone one that outlines a media strategy to cope with negative situations.

Being proactive is key. If you plan in advance, you can put people and procedures into place to manage the crisis. Hiring experts at short notice and trying to cobble together an ad hoc plan from a standing start is false economy.

That’s why so many business owners bury their heads and hope it goes away – or say ‘no comment’ which can so easily be construed to mean don’t care, aren’t bothered, have something to hide etc.

But if you manage a media crisis and have communicated effectively with your key stakeholders from the start (which may include partners, staff, suppliers, investors as well as customers) you may have sufficient credibility in the bank to buy time and maintain confidence anyway.

It is all about priorities. Developing a culture of good business is partly about being ethical but also communicating those values.

Handled correctly, a crisis can even be turned into an advantage – which requires foresight and the ability and willingness to plan.

So which type of business do you want to be? One with foresight or one with potential regret?

Media crisis management is the theme of July’s Business Media Club meetings in Birmingham and Worcester. To book your place, call 01905 453908 or email info@chrisgreenmedia.co.uk

Chris Green is an award-winning author and broadcaster – and managing partner of Chris Green Media – which inspires organisations to communicate better by connecting deeper.