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What two mistakes can sink a company in crisis?

While the list is long on how to make a crisis worse, the top two mistakes are believing it can never happen to you, and waiting too long to respond when a crisis does occur, whether it be a data theft, a product recall, workplace violence or other threat to your reputation and business.

Let me explain why each can prevent you from effectively navigating through a crisis.

If you believe a crisis can’t happen at your company or organization, you probably won’t take the critical precautionary steps to be prepared. You won’t conduct routine risk assessments and establish protocols to reduce those risks. You won’t develop a crisis management plan. You won’t run mock exercises to test your preparedness. And, you won’t put in place a crisis management team structure and triage system that you can implement when something goes wrong and key people need to be pulled together quickly to make critical decisions.

I know it’s hard to devote time and attention to preparing for some potentially terrible event that hasn’t happened yet, and that you hope never will happen – especially when there are pressing issues and deadlines pounding at your door right now. But when – not if – a crisis does hit, and you haven’t put in place the necessary procedures and protocols, your ability to successfully manage through it will be severely compromised. Handling a crisis is hard enough when you’re prepared. When you’re ill prepared, you can easily compound the situation and inflict irreparable damage to your company or organization’s reputation, business and bottom line.

The other often fatal mistake I see companies and organizations make is waiting to respond and not getting ahead of the story once a crisis hits. Too often, at the onset of a crisis, companies will decide to remain silent or withhold information, hoping it won’t find its way into the public. I understand the temptation. But the truth will always come out – especially in the digital age, where information never disappears and can, with one click, travel around the world.

If you remain quiet in the early stages of a crisis, you let others set the agenda and define your story for you. And if you only respond to leaks when you’re forced to, you’ll appear as though you’re intentionally hiding things and are untrustworthy. Working in tandem with legal and communications counsel, you’re always better off putting out your story as completely as possible from the start. This gives your stakeholders the benefit of hearing the story straight from the source that should be most trustworthy in the mix of voices that are likely to be talking about it.

My advice is to identify and manage risk, establish a crisis management team structure and plan and hold regular exercises. When a crisis does occur, set the agenda, don’t wait and react to it. This strategy will help you emerge from a crisis situation with stakeholder loyalty and reputation intact and your business preserved.

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Kevin Donahue

Senior Vice President, Managing Director – Reputation Management Group

Kevin Donahue leads the crisis and reputation management practice at Falls Communications and has helped hundreds of companies prepare for and manage high stakes issues.