Crises come in infinite shapes, sizes and levels of severity. Some are huge and disastrous like a plane crash, fire or earthquake; some evolve slowly like a government investigation or accusations from a disgruntled employee; and some happen fast and nasty like a surgeon botching an operation or a company's CEO getting arrested for DWI.

And if you don't have a crisis communications plan in place to minimize their impact, all crises have the potential to irreparably damage your organization's image and reputation, says communications expert Brian Salisbury at www.briansquill.com (who also happens to be a former Electrical Wholesaling editor). The damage can come due to:

  • Extensive negative media coverage
  • Significant business disruptions
  • Severe public scrutiny and exposure
  • Political, legal and financial repercussions

A crisis communications plan serves as an insurance policy for preserving your organization's positive image.

With a plan in place, you're positioned to follow the three-part Golden Rule of crisis communications:

  • Tell it all,
  • Tell it fast,
  • Tell the truth.

Just as important, if your plan is ready to go when a crisis hits, you can immediately devote crucial time to communicating rather than wringing your hands and cogitating over what to do first.

Developing a crisis communications plan is a time-consuming, detailed process. You must be aware of and prepare for all contingencies. One of the primary ways to accomplish this is by interviewing your organization's key people to learn what might go wrong and why.

With this information, you can create a vulnerability assessment. This would include all possible crisis scenarios and the communications elements necessary for each — such as press releases and statements to the public.

After listing all scenarios, you'd develop individual written statements or explanations intended for each critical audience if a particular crisis actually hits. Leave space in each script to add the who, what, when, where, why and how prior to your spokesperson's verbatim delivery during the actual crisis.

The hands-on action portion of your plan must be “chimp easy” to read and implement.

Remember, this is not a policy statement. It's a working document — essentially a template — that your crisis team will turn to when alarms are ringing, the media is calling, information is sketchy and your company's reputation is at stake.

Your plan should guide you through each hour of the event and enable the crisis team to clearly:

  • Identify the crisis

  • Identify all parties who should be informed of the situation.

  • Communicate the facts concerning the crisis

  • Communicate your organization's concern for human life and public safety

  • Communicate your action plan

  • Minimize rumors

  • Maintain order within your organization

  • Maintain the public's confidence in your organization

  • Maintain your organizations positive public image and reputation.

That's a lot to communicate. So it is important to have everything pre-written and blessed so you can deliver your messages quickly and effectively when it counts. Plan your work then work your plan.

For more of Salisbury's “Public Relations Pearls of Wisdom,” go to www.briansquill.com.

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Send pertinent information to Doug Chandler, Executive Editor, 9800 Metcalf Ave., Overland Park, KS 66212. Or you may e-mail information to doug.chandler@penton.com. All electronic photos should be in “jpg,” “tif” or “eps” format at no less than 300 dots per inch. Questions? Call (913) 967-1951.