Is your startup prepared to handle a crisis? A Three Stage Preparedness Plan

When most people think of the term “crisis communications,” they tend to associate it with a negative situation unfolding within a large corporation – or maybe U.S. politics. For example, all media, markets and consumer eyes were recently on Nordstrom and L.L. Bean after President Trump tweeted his feelings toward the brands to his more than 26 million followers. The resolution for these crisis situations wasn’t black and white, as there is rarely only one solution. However, both brands had one goal in mind: calm the chaos quickly and determine how to retain customer loyalty.

With the viral state of our society, startups and small businesses are not exempt from a potential crisis. A negative product review could go viral; a former employee could write a negative tell-all on his personal blog; a disgruntled customer could take to social media to complain about your services – is your company prepared to handle these situations? It’s important your organization is prepared to handle a crisis: react promptly, humanize the situation and control the narrative. Here is a three-stage preparedness plan to help your startup act like a pro when the heat is on.

Stage 1: Outline potential problems and get your team in place.

  1. Identify potential employee, product or company issues that could arise. The best way to imagine what kind of crisis your company might experience is to look at an existing company that is similar to your own. Chances are that many startups before you have experienced a data breach, layoffs, a product failure and so on. Looking into these instances can help you learn which angles reporters might take or questions they could ask in an interview. You can also assess which messages resonated positively and negatively with the public to help you form your own stance.
  1. Create your crisis communications team. This A-team will not only regularly monitor the media, social media and customer communication channels for negative comments and conversations about your company, but also communicate quickly up the chain of command as conversations unfold in real-time. Speed wins in a crisis.
  1. Meet with your legal team. Your legal team can advise on potential crisis situations, as well as review employment contracts and NDAs to ensure employees keep conversations with outside parties airtight.
  1. Assess all communication channels. Understand all the channels through which your employees converse with each other, partners or customers, while asking the question, “how can information get out to the rest of the world?”

Stage 2: Set up a crisis management center and communication plan (aka, a war room) and prepare to act quickly, yet intelligently.

  1. Identify a designated war room for any meetings or calls related to the crisis. If your office space is not conducive to confidential conversations, find another location. Ensure that phone lines and internet connections are as secure as possible, and only access documents and emails related to the crisis from the safe space.
  1. Create an internal contact log. This should include spokespeople to address your employees, customers, media and influencers in the event of a crisis. Detail the chain of approvals process for all external messages and any sign-off requirements from the legal team.
  1. Establish parameters for a company response. Outline how you’ll manage responses. Create templated and legal-approved holding statements to include key messages about your company’s goals, mission and values, as well as sound bites about your customers, products and employees. These messages can then can be tailored based on each situation.
  1. Prepare a media information center. Draft media talking points and baseline statements for each scenario you identified in step 1. Remember that tone is incredibly important; you don’t want to sound scripted, but you also don’t want to go off script during the chaos. To strike the balance, it’s important for the spokesperson to practice his key speaking points multiple times by adding in his own voice and tone, so the delivery sounds natural and personalized.
  1. Prepare a spokesperson. Start by outlining spokesperson responsibilities, and then conduct a media training session using drafted scenarios. With the right training, your spokesperson will confidently share clear messages with the appropriate level of emotion in a fiery situation.
  1. Define social media guidelines. Set some general best practices for responding on social media in a crisis and align how your company will interact on various channels. Be sure to adapt your media statements for different social platforms and review your social media policy in employee contracts with your legal team.

Stage 3: Start drafting necessary content so you can respond quickly and appropriately in a crisis.

Create a content library check-list of the templates and assets you will need in support of your crisis, including anything from written statements for employees to use, to social media response templates.

Whether the issue you’re facing is massive or minor, preparedness is power in the face of a crisis, and it will ultimately help protect you company, employees and customers. While there is no one-size-fits-all solution to a crisis, the same applies to companies facing an issue – be honest, be accountable and determine a solution quickly to shift focus back to the business and learn from the incident.

For more information on mistakes to avoid and a preparedness plan and checklist, check out Metis Communications’ guide, Crisis Communications: Act Like a Pro When the Heat is On.


Erin Rohr
Erin Rohr
Director of Marketing Communications

Erin Rohr is Director of Marketing Communications at InsightSquared. She was previously Account Director at Metis Communications, a Boston-based communications firm specializing in shaping and sharing stories for B2B technology companies of all types and sizes. Erin has experience launching PR and marketing campaigns for clients ranging from startups to emerging and established companies, and she leverages a proactive approach to drive valuable communications strategies for businesses in all markets.
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