Twelve hours. Just twelve hours. That's how long an organisation has to shape the way in which a crisis is going to unfold.
From experience, the biggest mistake typically made by an organisation heading into crisis mode is to prevaricate or dawdle. Delays in those crucial early hours represent an opportunity missed. The chance to positively influence the outcome and to limit the damage will be lost.
Control is everything. Once someone else 'owns' the story and drives the agenda - be that media, stakeholders or customers - control of the situation rests elsewhere.
Whatever happens with regard to timings, a secondary threat is often posed by unchecked reactive events - such as ill- thought out crisis communications - which only serve to make the situation worse. And that's before we even begin to consider the more extreme actions, such as attempts to tamper with or conceal evidence; something which can occur as panic sets in.
When a crisis hits, the fall-out can be startling. Plummeting share prices, senior resignations, crippling fines, regulatory investigations, claims and litigation; these are just the start.
In the most severe cases, the potential for criminal liability means we're talking about senior management possibly ending up behind bars.
Let us not forget either the long-term impact a crisis can have on brand value and customer perception.
Even well-managed crises rarely blow over with little or no collateral damage. However, the damage wreaked by a crisis over which an organisation retains no control could be life-changing.
Twelve hours. And your time starts now.
What happens next?
During those first twelve hours, you will be challenged for answers. During any extended period of silence, the press and the public will be filling in the gaps and the story - as they see it - will gather pace.
Sadly, you may not yet know the full facts, or the facts, as you understand them, may be wrong. Understandably, you will be fearful of legal liability or loss of stakeholder confidence and will be on high alert for anything that feels like a damaging admission or self-incrimination.
It is easy - and tempting - to act reactively and defensively. It is just as easy to make mistakes and to say or do the wrong thing.
The opportunity to turn the clock back doesn't exist. The opportunity for a quick and painless fix rarely exists. Nevertheless, an opportunity does exist to:
- Take control;
- Avoid costly mistakes;
- Positively influence the direction of any developing media story or regulatory investigation;
- And most importantly, demonstrate genuine honesty, integrity, transparency and an absolute and unerring commitment to put things right.
The final point is the most important because, in a crisis, especially an emotive one, this is what the public rightly expects.
Do the right thing - and be seen to be doing the right thing - while at the same time carefully protecting and enhancing your legal position.
To be astute to these dangers and opportunities, you need a plan that has you asking the right questions at the outset of any crisis and thinking strategically across a variety of issues.
Our Crisis Management flowchart has been devised to get you thinking about those questions and considering those wider issues.
Working through the flowchart, you can identify key dangers, risk areas and opportunities. It is not a substitute for fact-specific legal advice but it will get you on the right track and help you to avoid costly mistakes.
Download your copy today, for free. You can also email Kath.Livingston@Shoosmiths.co.uk for a free copy of a wallet/purse size version, suitable to carry with you on your travels.
This document is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information given.