Crisis communications is not something that should be taken lightly, especially in the food and beverage industry. Food and beverage companies, including ingredient companies, face major reputational risks when hit with crises, such as environmental contamination, food safety recalls, workplace emergencies and governmental investigations.
It’s important to anticipate these types of situations early and have a clear set of strategies in place for managing them. While every situation is different, the following steps can help set your company on the right path when faced with a crisis.
Create a plan before a crisis happens
Think about everything that could happen and how to effectively manage each situation before a crisis occurs. This may include an honest self-assessment or outside audit of your organization in order to predict where potential crises could arise. By identifying potential threats and developing successful strategies ahead of time, you’ll be more prepared to respond quickly and efficiently. Keeping updated information and appropriate documentation about your organization and its products and services can also make it easier for you to respond appropriately when a crisis occurs.
Appoint a crisis management team
This could be someone — or a group of individuals — within your company or outside your organization. Either way, you’ll want to designate and train the appropriate spokespeople, such as key leadership and other external-facing staff members, to address issues as they arise. It’s also important to monitor and keep communication lines open between staff in order to promote a culture of transparency and keep employees feeling like they’re in the know. Internal announcements can also keep well-meaning employees from offering inaccurate information to the public, which in turn helps protect your organization’s reputation.
Manage internal and external messages
A significant part of crisis communications is maintaining positive relationships with media. By cultivating a relationship of openness and trust between your organization and reporters, you’ll be more likely to have them on your side when a crisis occurs. Consider pitching stories, ideas and expert commentary to reporters when times are good. When dealing with a crisis, keep your messages clear and consistent. If possible, try to anticipate the needs of the media beforehand so you can provide them with the information they need as quickly and efficiently as possible. Keeping an updated list of all local and national reporters who cover your segment of the food and beverage industry can also help you supply information promptly.
Communicate early and often
While it’s imperative to be proactive rather than reactive, there’s a fine line between responding quickly and acting hastily. If you don’t have sufficient information or satisfying answers about the steps you are taking to resolve a situation, you probably aren’t ready to go public just yet. Determine the best communication methods for handling the crisis, such as hosting a press conference or in-person briefing. Distributing a press release with the basic who, what, when, where and why can also help you communicate significant information.
Identify key audiences and communication channels
It’s also important to identify which audiences matter most to your organization and the type of information each audience is seeking in order to keep them well informed. You’ll want to notify your employees first in order to ensure everyone’s safety and proper information management. From there, you should contact key constituents or partners who may be impacted by the crisis. After that, you can reach out to local media with your prepared statement and collateral materials.
No one wants to be at the center of a crisis, but scrambling around because you’re not prepared to handle it takes things from bad to worse. If the steps above seem overwhelming, consider partnering with experienced crisis communication professionals to help your company create and execute the best responses for a situation.
For more information about the benefits of partnering with an agency who specializes in public relations and crisis communications, please contact us.