Preparing for Damage Control

Preparing for Damage Control : The Fine Art of Crisis Communication

Penelope Herbert

Managing Director

Hot Pepper Public Relations

For many people, the thought of having to go in to ‘damage control’ is a daunting task. Others give no consideration to having a crisis communication plan because they somehow think that a crisis may bypass them. But a crisis isn’t always related to something a company has or hasn’t done. Sometimes a crisis is the result of something some other company or person has or hasn’t done.

I advise ALL businesses of any size to have a competent crisis communication plan. And it need not be rocket science. Necessarily larger companies will have a more in-depth plan, but no communication plan needs be complex.

When I run my in-house workshops, I go through scenario planning and role playing with participants. This can be quite fun; until the blood drains from the faces of the executives as they realise how ‘exposed’ they are.

Think about it. How many scenarios could fit YOUR business?

Accident * Fire * Theft * Embezzlement * Death * Computer Glitch * Human Error * Director Resignation * Sabotage * Food Poisoning * Industrial Spill * Strike * Explosion * Flood * Electrical Fault * Disaster * Stock Price Plummet * Sexual Harassment * Racial Discrimination * Staff being Head-hunted * Health Scare * Drugs Found on Premises * Staff Walk-out * Environmental Problem * Court Decision * Tax Issue *

……the list is endless. When your small or large business is faced with a crisis, whether or not it’s of your making, a plan WILL help you to minimise the adverse effect.

A crisis communication plan and effective public relations handling will be the difference between your crisis hurting or enhancing your business. How can a crisis enhance your business? By the way you handle it. If you are truthful and react quickly, your business may actually enhance its reputation for being honest, community minded, genuinely concerned and proactive.

Conversely, if you try to conceal the situation, lie, avoid the media and become non-communicative with staff, your reputation will be destroyed faster than a speeding bullet.

And remember, astute public relations handling can keep your crisis OUT of the media as well as ensuring there is adequate damage control if the crisis gets IN to the media. Insurance will not save your good name once te media comes sniffing around – a good crisis communication plan will.

However, there are just eight simple rules for developing a crisis communication plan.

Have a Crisis Management Team:

List all members of your crisis management team with name, title and contact details. Depending on the type of business you manage, your crisis team may need to include CEO, Chairman, departmental heads, public relations person (internal or contract), marketing personnel, and legal and security. Thus contact can be made directly with the appropriate person.

Nominate a media spokesperson; and that person may not necessarily be the Managing Director or CEO. Your spokesperson must be some one who is familiar with every issue of the business, charismatic, comfortable public speaking, and available.

Funnel information through your media spokesperson but have a back-person just in case. It is imperative that your media spokesperson be AVAILABLE especially on short notice. Don’t send them off to a conference in the middle of a crisis.

Key Personnel Profiles:

Obtain profiles and biographies for each key manager or person responsible for areas you may have identified as being subject to crisis management. Include a high quality digital photo and have information in hard copy and on disc.

Contact Details:

Ensure the contact details for your key personnel are up-to-date – phone, fax, e-mail, mobile (cell), pager, address, correct title.

Company Fact Sheet:

A company fact sheet will make it easier for the media to understand your position in relation to the crisis. For example, maybe the crisis is a rumour and your fact sheet will clearly indicate that you are not involved.

A company fact sheet may also contain details on your processes and systems. This information will also help to assure the media your business operates lawfully. (ie: manufacturing processes, waste storage, dangerous goods disposal, etc)

Include facts detailing the company, each division, physical locations and products offered.

Logos & Images:

Ensure copies of your corporate and product logos are available, a pre-prepared media release (up-dated regularly) and a scanned signature from the CEO or business owner. Images should be high quality digital, available on disc and e-mailable.

Practice ‘Scripts’:

Pre-write ‘scripts’ answering key questions arising from your crisis scenario planning. Include in the script, answers such as “As soon as that information becomes available, we will let you know”. Practice saying this until it becomes ‘spontaneous’.

Media & Other Key Relationships:

Establishing key media contacts related to your industry will be invaluable. If you have developed these relationships in advance, you will have an opportunity to speak with a media representative whom you already know, and who knows you.

If appropriate, also include key financial press and analysts. Depending on your industry and likely crisis management requirements, include appropriate political, regulatory, environmental, and union personnel.

Off-site Duplicates:

Ensure that duplicate copies of the plan are available at an offsite location and include all information, disks, graphics, photos, files than are normally available in your office. Having information on disc and included in your remote location crisis management kit will enable you to use information on a remote computer, if required.

If you don’t want the issue to make it in to the media, then develop strategies to dampen down the story without lying – if you lie you WILL be found out and the adverse effect will be magnified – and quite possibly something from which your company reputation will not recover.

If you are faced with a crisis, react immediately to assess the situation, investigate what actually has happened and ascertain your involvement, liability and potential adverse effect.

Using your crisis communication plan, state and support your position, use pre-written scripts to affirm your full co-operation but don’t be bullied in to revealing more if you don’t have the right information. Use a pre-written, and up-dated, media release to issue a statement.

Once the initial interest has subsided, go silent on the issue and allow it to disappear – another crisis for another company will soon take it’s place. Work to regain some business traction, if required, and re-build your image with truth, community spirit and openness.

Your response to a crisis will be the difference between ‘death by media’ or a quick resolution and forward motion.

Coming soon to the hot pepper website – ‘Success in a Briefcase’ – a business communication and media relationship manual for any business - downloadable as a whole or in parts – pick what you want – covers written business communication, building media relationships and organising product launches & events. To pre-order e-mail


As a published writer and media professional, I am delighted to share with you information on public relations techniques and building media relationships that will be of benefit to your business. I have worked in New Zealand, Australia, Japan, Malaysia and North America in roles relating to media, publishing, marketing, event management, international relations, publicity and public relations. I am now the Managing Director of the Hot Pepper Group Pty Ltd - a company that offers three business ...

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