Advice for small businesses on knowing what to say during a crisis

05/06/2014 12:00 AM

05/04/2014 10:59 PM

Small businesses should always be prepared for the possibility that a crisis could affect their company, a local expert says.

“Anything can happen at any moment,” says Dianne Chase, senior partner with C4CS, LLC, which specializes in strategic communication and crisis management. “You have to be prepared because it’s not a matter of if – it’s when.”

Knowing what to say – and how to handle the crisis well – can actually benefit a company’s reputation.

Chase urges her clients to prepare for a crisis so when one happens they will know what to do, which will allow them to retain their reputation and customers’ loyalty.

Here are Chase’s suggestions for how companies can manage media crises:

• Imagine the three worst crises the business could face and think through some hypothetical responses.

“We all know that the worst possible thing is not to respond,” Chase said. “Never say, ‘no comment,’ or ignore a negative situation.”

Speaking off the cuff can lead to disaster, so Chase recommends business owners rehearse what they might say in certain situations.

Business owners almost always can say what they know about a situation, and it’s usually safe also to state how they feel about it. That will help them speak to a situation on a more human level.

“You are connecting as one human being to another instead of as a faceless business,” Chase said.

• Craft an appropriate message: Remember when BP CEO Tony Hayward said “I’d like my life back?” at a news conference after the devastating 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico?

In times of crisis, it’s important to consider the impact of your words before you speak publicly.

“A lot of times (business owners) just don’t have the communication skills needed because they haven’t thought about how to respond and they haven’t practiced,” Chase said. “You have to feel in control of that message when something happens.”

A professional reputation management firm can help create a message, which should promote the business’s mission and positive values and offer a compassionate and knowledgeable response to the crisis.

Also consider your audiences, which could include customers, family and friends, stockholders and business associates.

“Those messages have to be crafted for all of those audiences,” Chase said.

• Communicate often and tell the truth: In the Internet age, the truth can quickly be ferreted out and published.

“You have to be quick and have candor in your response,” Chase said.

Be prepared to provide timely communication and updates about the situation, all the while being transparent and open about what is happening.

“If you think of it as a circle, really it’s very much living in the crisis, living into the crisis and living through the crisis,” Chase said.

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