The companies best at crisis management aren’t the ones who do everything right after a crisis emerges; they’re the ones who do things right before there’s even the hint of a potential crisis. There are three steps you can take right now, when everything is calm, to put you far ahead of the game should a crisis emerge.
First, build relationships with reporters who cover you and your industry. These are the reporters most likely to cover you in a crisis, and you will want them to understand your company and trust what you have to say. Familiarity breeds credibility. While perhaps daunting, particularly for those not experienced in working with reporters, it’s worthwhile. Reach out to these reporters, with no story to pitch, just to connect and trade information.
One important, often-overlooked point is that reporters are key sources of intelligence, and relationships with them are two-way streets. As you share information, so do they. It’s in their interests to get to know you and develop you as a source just as it is for you to do so with them. And make sure these informal discussions are off-the-record unless it’s explicitly stated otherwise.
Second, start establishing yourself as a thought leader in your areas of expertise. Publish bylines, offer yourself up to reporters as a quotable commentator, leverage social media, and speak at events on issues related to your business. This is about establishing your credibility beyond reporters and with other stakeholders that will matter if a crisis occurs. Think about who those stakeholders are and find ways to reach them now in positive ways. Again, familiarity breeds credibility.
Third, cultivate people outside your company who will stand up for you publicly in bad times. These third-party validators can make a big difference if a crisis happens, whether they talk to reporters on your behalf or advocate for you on social media. Often, startups assemble advisory boards for business reasons alone, often overlooking the critical, external role those boards can play during crises. But, you don’t need an advisory board to develop third-party validators – you simply need to invest time in establishing your bona fides with people who stakeholders will listen to at difficult moments.
That’s it – three simple steps to set you on the path to effective crisis management. To be sure, though simple, these steps will require your scarce resource of time. But, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better return on investment should a crisis happen.