By: Susan VanEpps
No matter how large or small your business, crisis can come calling in the middle of the night and last a long time. For small business owner Tracy Weise, co-founder and president of Weise Communications and manager of public relations for the Medical Center of Aurora, Colorado, last year’s mass shooting at a local movie theater meant fielding more than 300 media inquiries just in the first 36 hours of the crisis.
Speaking at a recent Public Relations Society of America training held in Loudoun County, Weise recounted more than a dozen lessons learned from the Aurora shooting. The broad theme: prepare now. On having a crisis at your business, “It’s not a matter of if; it’s a matter of when. Better to be prepared now,” she said. Some of her recommendations include:
- Keep a written list of home, work and cell phone numbers for everyone you might need in a crisis. Individual numbers stored in multiple cell phones slow down the communication process and are useless if cell phones die during the emergency. While you’re at it, buy extra phone chargers and keep them in the office.
- Have a relief plan in place – no one can work 24 hours a day for days at a time. Include a plan for the transfer of knowledge from one set of staff to their relief crew.
- Be the first one to get the facts out, and make sure those facts are presented by the right people. “There’s a difference between being media-trained and being media-savvy,” says Weise. Designate the people best perceived as credible authorities to present the information. And even if you know the answer to a reporter’s question, it may be best to review it with a legal advisor first.
- Provide regular updates to the media. In between your scheduled live updates, you can record pertinent information on a phone line reporters can listen to for the latest details.
- As soon as the crisis hits, take a quick shower – it might be your last for a few days. Self-care becomes critical during a crisis; remember to take breaks, drink water, get fresh air, and if someone brings you food while you work the crisis, “just eat it!” she says.
- Anticipate what’s going to be needed in the days to come as the aftermath of the crisis unfolds. “It’ll make your life so much easier!” says Weise.
- Keep the “Universal Truths” of your business as your priority at all times. Everything you do and say should communicate them. Know your messaging, keep a list and repeat it in every interview.
For additional considerations and details, the Small Business Administration also offers an online crisis communications checklist.