When a small business has a big crisis

Large corporates sometimes seem to have communications plans for Africa.

They have plans for product launches, community initiatives, capital raising, and of course crises. But when you’re small, a comms plan for how to deal with a crisis seems a bit over-the-top… doesn’t it?

Actually, it’s a good idea for organisations of any size.

There’s no need for a full-scale communications protocol for everything that could ever go wrong,  but it’s good to know you have guidelines on how to handle the attention. It means you don’t have to be too distracted when you’re dealing with key operational issues. 

Consider for example:

  • An outbreak of food poisoning where your cafe’s being named
  • An accusation that a staff member assaulted a customer
  •  One of your business vehicles has hit and killed a child
  • Your co-owner’s been charged with fraud

These crises may not be on the same scale as a major earthquake or an attack, but they can threaten the viability of your business.

While the facts are still being established, you  will be trying to find out if the claims are true, or whether your business was at fault. Answering questions from media doesn’t seem like the most important thing for you to be doing at a time like that.

But remember, nature abhors a vacuum. If you’re not saying something, other information will fill that space: Information that may be inaccurate, speculative or even malicious. 

So here’s a fast-and-dirty 5-point response plan to have on hand:

  • Nominate a person who will be the single contact point for media. It doesn’t need to be your most senior person, but he or she must know what’s going on and speak with authority and credibility. 
  • Don’t lie. If you don’t know something, say so. For example: The police have asked us not to comment on that, but we are trying to find out what happened.
  • If people have been hurt or let down, apologise. You can apologise for someone’s situation without admitting liability.
  • In cases of injury or death, ALWAYS, focus on the people involved. Your business, your shareholders, your legal obligations and any investigation are secondary to a human tragedy. 
  • Call in the experts. If things are growing beyond your comfort zone, call in a proficient PR professional to help. We can give you an objective assessment of your situation and next steps, manage media demands and  help you weather the storm.