Turn on the news or scroll through social media any day of the week and you’ll encounter a company in crisis. Countless businesses of every size have fallen from public grace due to mistake after mistake made by executives who were caught off guard by a crisis.
Don’t let your co-op fall to a similar fate. Be proactive and take the proper steps now to prepare your cooperative for troubled times. In his book, “Crisis Communications”, Steven Fink stresses the importance of proper crisis management:
“The point is clear: at some time, every company—large or small, publicly traded or privately held—will find itself mired in a crisis of some kind and have some communicating to do. It’s only a matter of time and of degree. And how that crisis is managed—and how the management of that crisis is communicated—often spells the difference between the life and death of the company, the rise and fall of its stock price, and the hero or goat label attached to management. Crisis communications defines a company, for better or worse, and for many years to come.”
Here are five reasons why proactive crisis communications planning is essential for the continued health of your co-op.
Confusion reigns supreme in cooperatives that are hit with unforeseen crises. Without a crisis management and communication plan in place, employees won’t know what to do or how to react when trouble hits. That confusion then spirals into mistakes, missteps, a diminished public image, lost revenue and more.
While it requires strategy, interdepartmental coordination and additional resources, proactive crisis management and communications planning pays dividends when disaster hits. Planning for troubled times when things are going well allows teams to calmly work through crisis scenarios and develop solid checklists, templates, and crisis management policies. When a crisis arises, your team will know what steps to take. Individual employees will also know their role in the crisis management process. Overall, having a plan of action will minimize confusion and stress.
Don’t wait until negative press is cast upon your cooperative to connect with the media. Instead, build relationships with reporters and media representatives now. Building goodwill with the press can be as simple as occasionally having coffee with reporters or pitching news stories that peak their interest. If you work in a complicated industry, plan a series of meetings with media representatives to teach them the basics about what you do. All of this work will build goodwill with the press. Reporters will also know who to contact within your co-op during times of crisis.
Beyond the media, build goodwill with your cooperative’s target audiences as well as with the general public. A few opportunities for this include sponsoring local and regional causes, donating to charity, and getting involved with important community initiatives. The more you do now to cast your co-op in a positive light, the more grace the cooperative will likely be given by the public during troubled times.
Being reactive in times of crisis is a recipe for disaster. Reacting to a message that has been set for you by competitors, disgruntled customers, the media, or others makes managing a crisis extremely difficult. Even worse, it’s nearly impossible to reverse a negative corporate image set by others.
Be proactive, not reactive, by outlining the main talking points for each crisis that could impact your co-op. When a crisis that you’ve proactively anticipated happens, your co-op’s spokesperson will use those talking points to set the message with the media. Defining the talking points of how you are managing a crisis will also prevent the press from leading your co-op’s spokesperson down a rabbit hole. Additionally, don’t hide from the press during troubled times. Doing so will, again, allow others to set the message for you. Instead, define your message, draft the talking points, and proactively reach out to the press with a willingness to discuss the issue.
A well-defined crisis management and communications plan will help maintain your co-op’s credibility. You’ve likely dedicated years and countless hours to building your cooperative’s reputation. One mismanaged crisis can and will wipe out all of that work. Again, planning for the crises that are likely to impact your co-op takes time, but it’s well worth the effort.
First, consider the corporate executive team that approaches a crisis with confidence and calmly guides their workforce through the situation while inviting structured press interviews. Now consider a corporate executive team that’s slow to respond to a developing crisis, gives their workforce no guidance, and hides from the media. It’s clear which coooperative will see a boost in their corporate credibility and which will emerge with a tarnished reputation, if it emerges at all.
If you don’t know what’s being said about your co-op, you can’t respond to it. In today’s digital landscape where anyone with a phone is a reporter, social listening is an essential element of co-op crisis management. At its most basic level, social listening involves tracking online keywords related to your cooperative and industry. This strategy will keep you tuned in to what members, competitors, the media, and others are saying about your co-op. Tuning into online conversations about your industry can also be useful beyond co-op crisis planning. For example, social listening allows you to respond to member questions or complaints within comment strings, offer tips and advice, and keeps your finger on the pulse of competitors.
It’s inevitable—a crisis will affect your co-op. It’s just a matter of when. How that crisis is managed and communicated can spell the difference between the cooperative’s life or death and will define its reputation for years to come. Be proactive and take the proper steps now to prepare your co-op for likely future troubles.
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