In the consulting business, back to school is often back to planning, for the next quarter or the next year.  Whether working with Fortune 500 or newer startups, an area that is often overlooked in the planning process is crisis communications or brand reputation management.

While some professionals live for the adrenaline that comes with managing a crisis, be it a recall, image problem or massive security breach (just ask Target & Chase). Time is of the essence in responding to all stakeholders of your brand and company.  The challenge is that creating response takes time you won’t have when in the thick of a crisis.

Instead, take time to organize yourself and develop a mini plan of attack so that when (and trust me, it will happen) something threatens your brand, you’ll be able to spend your time dealing with your strategy, instead of wasting time.

Determine who’s on the team:   Think function, not office space.  While the team needs to include executives and other department heads who have ultimate decision making power for a brand, it should also include social media managers, those who interface with the media and customer service, if your brand is consumer-based.  Don’t just hand a Q&A and statement to folks who interact with your audiences. Instead, make sure they are in the room (or on the call) when the decision is being made. You’ll save time and have a more accurate response and generate better results, by doing so.

Create an audience check list:  Create a list of key stakeholders – – employees, investors, board members, key customers, consumers (if applicable), affiliates, not-for-profit partners, media and other influencers who may need to know about your situation.  Create and check your database on a quarterly basis so that when needed, it’s ready to go.  Will it be perfect?  No, but it’s much easier to add in or change a few email addresses or phone numbers than to start from scratch.  This may sound simple, but in my informal survey of our clients, and other PR pro’s clients, less than 15% have this ready to go.

Know your Achilles heel: Despite all of our best efforts, no company or organization is perfect. Keeping tabs on challenges or problems before they blow up is an integral part of preventing a crisis that warrants crisis communications. What problems have the potential to surface? What worries your crisis team?  What’s trending on the social media channels? By actually discussing it and thinking ahead, you will have a framework to start your messaging.

Know what’s being said: Take two seconds to set up Google Alerts for your organization. That way, you’ll get notifications each time your company’s name is mentioned somewhere on the internet, allowing you to see any crisis-worthy news right when it gets posted. One of our longtime clients learned about a major lawsuit from one of our team members, who had received an alert from google about the filing.  Papers weren’t even served to our client, but Google had already picked up the info from the clerk’s office electronic filing system.

Remember, time is crucial! It’s always better to issue a response before users flood your social media channels or the media shows up in your lobby demanding one. You want to be able to address the issue on your own terms.

Truthfully, it is not a question of if a crisis will happen, but rather when. Take quick steps now to make dealing with a challenging situation a little bit easier.  Need help?  Give us a call and we can help you develop a full plan, including media training.  Now wasn’t that easy?

Susan Stoga has more than 25 years of experience working brands to launch and alleviate brand awareness.  She has counseled clients in the banking, building, franchise, food, hospitability and senior living categories, just to name a few. She can be reached at susan@carsonstoga.com.