What to do when all hell breaks loose


What do you do when all hell breaks loose?

The first rule of issues management is plan.
The second rule of issues management is plan.
The third rule of issues management is plan!

Many small issues that could have been headed off at the pass have turned into major crisis, because people didn’t plan properly.

In many cases, they didn’t even know there was an issue until it was all totally out of control.

So the first step is identifying and anticipating possible issues.

One of the simplest way of doing this is by profiling and analysing your different audiences – their sensitivities, influencers and motivators.

Are they law abiding citizens? Then they won’t want to buy a brand promoted by a drug smoking celebrity.

If they don’t have a big income, then they won’t be very impressed with a large price increase.

If they have children, then they won’t be wanting products that could harm their kids.

You should also look at your product, business or service – what are the things that could go wrong?

There may always be the random scenario that you haven’t thought of but there will be another ten that you have.

The next step is to analyse the impact of potential issues and prioritise them.

Who are they going to affect and how? What damage could it do to the business? Are some issues more likely to occur than others?

Play Devil’s advocate and look at worst case scenarios, then put plans in place to make sure they never happen!

Now you’ve identified what might lead to the end of the world, its time to start planning to save it.

You should have a battle plan for each issue. This should include your company position, possible key messages, the right tone and manner, the best way to communicate (if required) and the appropriate chain of communication.

It can also be a good idea to try a dummy run to test the most likely scenarios.

Issues are easiest to manage in the early stages, before they blow up into a major crisis. Sometimes, all it takes is a phone call, email or recall of a small range of product – something that can be resolved quickly and quietly. Issues that are ignored, do not go away.

There are numerous ways to track and monitor different issues. You can use media monitoring to see what the media are writing and saying, website tracking to see if anyone is talking about you on blogs or in chatrooms, feedback from your customer service centre and sales staff and industry comment.

The ignore and it will go away approach (this does not work!)

We were called in by a company which had been contacted by a news reporter from TVNZ two days earlier. The reporter was following up on complaints raised by people recruited by their business.

The client had evidence that in fact, the complainants were the ones that had been remiss and, despite the best efforts of the client, these people were personally responsible for the situation they were in.

The company had referred the reporter to a Government Department with whom they worked and then left it to them to respond, without checking to make sure an adequate response had been made.

No surprise then, when the Government Department also failed to respond to TVNZ, the reporter decided a cover up was taking place.

We were called in two hours after the client had been ambushed at work by a camera crew. She couldn’t understand how this very small issue in which they were clearly in the right, had escalated into a very negative national news story.

The simple answer – you can’t ignore a query from the media or leave it to someone else to follow up.