Are You REALLY Prepared for a Business Crisis?

It’s 2am, Is Your Crisis Communications Plan working?

Why must we watch as organizations and brands continue to suffer through mismanaging their business crisis communications?

This New York Times Sunday Magazine story reports on the crisis communications challenges faced by Toyota, BP and Goldman Sachs. It shows how brands risk their reputation, endanger trust and disrupt their business when they ineptly manage crisis communications.

The golf business experienced this when Sun Mountain Sports mismanaged the “crisis” around its malfunctioning rain gear at the Ryder Cup. It has been cleverly dubbed Waterproofgate as the rain gear problems sent PGA officials scurrying to the merchandise tent to buy competitors’ suits.

Macali Enterprise article imageSun Mountain was being slammed live on ESPN, blogs and media sites. Now, there are about 105,000 Google results about Sun Mountain’s Ryder Cup problems.

Certainly, this isn’t as consequential as massive oil pollution, businesses and lives threatened or even deaths caused by accelerator problems.

But Sun Mountain’s reputation has been compromised and its business disrupted by this incident. It didn’t have to be that way. And it only takes a minute to ruin a reputation, but a lifetime to regain it.

As this crisis unfolded, the company remained silent and seemed to have no crisis communications plan. Facebook and Twitter posts were outdated, even referring to old news about rain gear performance. You can’t do that in the world of real time.

There wasn’t even the proverbial statement: “Something has affected the performance of our suits at the Ryder Cup this morning. We are looking into this news and will report the facts when we know them.”

What could they have done? Was Sun Mountain really left out to dry (ouch)?

NO, the company could have been prepared with a crisis communications plan, which can be as simple as these eight principles:

  1. Philosophy & position – know and understand the value of being open, responsive, sincere, professional and proactive when a crisis hits.
  2. Anticipation – before it hits, identify the worst case scenarios and your team’s capabilities to address them (see list below) as crises can come in many ways known and unknown.
  3. Listening & hearing – have off and online listening mechanisms for hearing about your brand or organization’s problems on a timely basis: here’s how to listen online and here’s a review and analysis on effective monitoring tools.
  4. Policies & procedures – know how, who and when about speaking competently and confidently to build trust with media and all your constituencies. Is the CEO or other senior executive best at this?
  5. Macali Enterprise article imageSpokesperson designation & training – prepare and train the CEO or senior executive to establish that your spokesperson and his words matter and are trustworthy.
  6. Messages & materials – anticipate and prepare valuable and pertinent messaging and template statements, releases and Q&A for both social and mainstream media.
  7. Allies network – identify and build alliances, and create communication systems to help allies assist you during a crisis.
  8. Followup & response process – create systems and procedures on how to update the media, influencers and the public in a timely, responsible manner.

Will the Sun Mountain brand survive? Probably. Will it thrive? That remains to be seen. Will the Sun Mountain brand survive? Probably. Will it thrive? That remains to be seen. The CEO needs to watch his words in crisis management moving forward. Read this interview in Golf World. Does the WC Fields’ publicity reference seem flip?

This Ryder Cup crisis was not an isolated incident. It’s important and beneficial to recognize that many potential crises lurk and you better be ready to address them. Think lawsuits, sexual harassment, endorser problems and natural disasters.

As the New York Times magazine story states, many business leaders face crisis like a kid on a rollercoaster. He gets on, closes his eyes and hopes the problems will go away. That’s careless, irresponsible and will result in major problems. Queasy stomachs, too.

Just ask Tiger, Tony Hayward, Lloyd Blankfein, Akio Toyoda and Rick Reimers (Sun Mountain CEO). Toyota accelerator (alone) has about 1,400,000 results and BP more than 5,400,000 on Google now.