Don't Wait for a Crisis to Hit: Why Regular Simulation Training is Crucial

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In today's world, crisis is unavoidable. From data breaches to union disagreements to lost baggage, one can occur at any moment. That's why it's essential for a business to be prepared. To deescalate a crisis, decisions and responses are needed within hours; sometimes minutes. Mower, an employee-owned independent advertising, marketing and public relations agency, recommends regular simulation training.

Surprisingly, according to a survey done by B2B and Mower, 57% of marketing executives said their company doesn't have a crisis response plan in place.

A crisis communication plan and regular training of that plan is crucial for any business. It allows organizations to respond quickly and efficiently to unexpected events that may impact operations, customers or stakeholders. Effective crisis communication can help mitigate the negative effects of a crisis, limit reputation damage and promote a positive image of the company.

"So many crises are preventable," said Rick Lyke, Executive Vice President and Managing Director, Mower. "It's often a failure to prepare."

One of the most important things in crisis communications is transparency. Lyke noted that internal transparency is even more critical. Ahead of a crisis, it's imperative that employees and particularly those on the frontlines have the confidence to report a situation before it becomes one. Too often, when workers are not empowered or trained in crisis communication, they take a "no big deal" type of attitude, which forces the customer to take an "it's a very big deal" attitude. An infamous example of this is the United Breaks Guitars case study that chronicles how United Airlines' reaction to a passenger's guitar being broken is still referenced 15 years later. Many attribute United Airlines' 10% stock price plunge ($180 million) to the bad PR caused by the resulting song.

"When a 'no big deal' attitude is portrayed, [a customer's] anxiety changes over to a level of anger and distrust," Lyke explained. That's why a key to effective crisis communications is a good system for listening. Social media listening and customer service systems can be important tools in prevention. It's also why it's important to develop a crisis communications team that spans various departments in an organization.

"What happens when the CEO is on an airplane and a decision needs to be made immediately?" Lyke asked. Simulation training that enacts these types of situations allows leaders in an organization to get comfortable with others making key decisions. It also helps to unearth those who are best suited for crisis situations.

Developing a cross-departmental crisis management team ahead of a crisis ensures that those on the team will understand their pre-established roles and responsibilities. This team should include key personnel from various departments such as public relations, legal, operations, marketing and human resources. As people from these teams might not always work together, simulation training helps them to connect and better understand their unique role in moments of crisis.

If a company has not trained in crisis response, acknowledging emotions and being transparent can seem risky, especially to legal counsel.

When looking at failed crisis communications, the initial breakdown typically starts with not having a leadership presence nor communicating awareness of a situation. When empathy is not present, consumers' trust level takes a dive. Lyke referenced multiple medical case studies that showcase drastic drops in malpractice lawsuits when physicians practice patient-focused communication that shows empathy and respect, attentive listening, and answering questions honestly.

Ultimately, effective crisis communication requires thorough preparation, which includes building trust with key stakeholders such as the community, outside experts and local officials. According to Lyke, waiting until a crisis hits to establish these relationships is too late. By proactively building trust, businesses can have a network of support in place to help them navigate difficult situations.

As the saying goes, "You can't buy fire insurance during a fire." Similarly, companies cannot establish needed relationships during a crisis. Instead, they must be prepared ahead of time by regularly engaging with industry stakeholders, communicating transparently and demonstrating a commitment to their values and mission. This will not only help businesses to effectively manage crises, but also build stronger relationships and enhance their reputation over the long term.

The need for crisis communication can arise from a wide range of situations, often with little notice. When crisis hits, the lasting damage brands suffer is often more related to how corporate leadership reacts than the original emergency. Thus, the best way to avert a bigger crisis is to be prepared.

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