By Devon Blaine, President and CEO of The Blaine Group
You have worked hard to build a thriving business… then the unthinkable happens… your company is thrust into the limelight… nationally and negatively!
“It could never happen to me,” had been your mantra thus far. As a result, you are totally unprepared… no crisis plan exists, you don’t even know who to call for help.
- A child choked on a promotional item you provided to a customer.
- Someone was raped in the parking lot at your event.
- Pets are dying, allegedly from an ingredient your company provided to pet food manufacturers.
- The FTC Commissioner has called a press conference for January 4 to announce a multi-million dollar settlement against your company which makes a top-selling weight loss product.
- A toxic spill in your facility rose over the berms (higher than mandated legally) and spilled into the city streets.
- Your small, publicly-traded company is prominently featured in a negative industry round-up article on the front page of Barron’s. As a result, your stock drops from $40 to $14 that day!
- Your company’s letterhead is superimposed on screen… as the lead story on the evening news…“Bribery Scandal at City Hall.”
What Keeps You Awake at Night?
- Will your customers desert you?
- Will their customers sue you?
- Should you attend your major industry trade show in two weeks?
- You are out of the country on business. Your managers attempted to manage the situation without you… 24 hours later you are told about it. Do you cut your trip short and return home?
- Will your company survive this crisis?
- Are your personal assets at risk? Have you protected them adequately?
You fly home, rush to the office after a few hours of sleep… without showering or “dressing” for work. The FDA has asked for a product recall and press release. How do you manage all of the calls that are coming in? The media has staked out your facility. How do you get out of the office without a microphone and camera being thrust in your face? What if they follow you home at the end of the day? Are you at risk legally?
“As business leaders, it's our responsibility to anticipate and prepare for landmines that can undermine growth. Crisis can strike the most successful companies unexpectedly and often requires urgent action, particularly when dealing with the media. The more successful your company is, the bigger you are as a target. Thus, the more important it is to prepare in advance,” explained Steve Cheng, CEO of Window Rock Enterprises.
Legal Concerns in Crisis Management
Most of us believe that if we do everything in a competent and ethical manner, we won’t face the legal challenges that companies like Enron and Countrywide have had to deal with. We know that we are good corporate citizens and take care of our clients and treat our employees in the best possible manner. We are safe, right?
No lawsuit here, you think or “why should I worry, I will win the case.” In many of these circumstances, even if you prevail, you may end up spending tens of thousands of dollars on legal fees that you will never recoup and have your business’ name and reputation smeared in the media.
What are some of these legal issues?
- Product Liability
- Professional Negligence
- Res Ipsa Loquatar
Is This the Worst Thing That’s Ever Happened to Your Business?
While it may definitely feel as though this is the worst day of your business life, it may well be the beginning of the best.
This is not a Pollyanna statement but the voice of experience speaking. Presuming that yours is a mid-market company, it will now be perceived as larger and more important due to all of the media attention. No one believes small companies make headlines.
The key is to properly manage that attention and to ensure that your company is treated fairly by the press.
This is best done by preparing in advance. It is important for all companies today to have a crisis plan and to have interviewed and know those who will serve on their crisis team, should such an event ever occur. Contact data on all members of that team 24/7 should not only be on file but also readily available.
“Preparing a crisis plan can be as simple as establishing a relationship with a crisis management firm so you know who to call when crisis strikes. It's like having a fire escape plan for your building. You don't imagine you'll ever need it, but it's good knowing you're prepared just in case,” noted Cheng.
It is also an opportunity to become a major “voice” in your industry. We have had clients lead an industry trade show panel on crisis management. It is an opportunity to do good and get positive attention by putting on a seminar on “Product Safety” or “What to do in the Case of a Product Recall.”
You may also be approached by Fortune 100 customers you’ve not sold to before. Why? You are now viewed as a real player in the industry.
We’ve also had industry analysts begin to follow a small company, due to the Barron’s mention. They would never have made it on the analysts radar screen otherwise.
Now, you decide… does your company need a crisis plan?