by Edward Segal, author of “Crisis Ahead: 101 Ways to Prepare for and Bounce Back from Disasters, Scandals and Other Emergencies“
Small businesses must often confront and deal with controversial issues that can threaten their image, reputation, profits, and relations with customers and the public. These issues have recently included the #MeToo movement, Black Lives Matter, racial inequality, social injustice, and the impact of COVID-19.
There can be consequences for being on the wrong side of an issue. Consider what happened to the owners of Bruster’s Real Ice Cream in Annapolis, Maryland. As reported by the Capital Gazette newspaper, the owners had to apologize for comments that were perceived as a racist attack on Black Lives Matter protesters
A small protest was held outside the shop on Forest Drive Thursday, which Annapolis police said was peaceful and dispersed quietly. Some customers have said they will no longer go to the take-out, where cars usually crowd the small parking lot most warm nights. Lisa Ruth said their shop was vandalized Saturday, with ‘BLM’ spray painted outside.
That incident created a crisis for Bruster’s a national chain of ice cream stores, prompting corporate officials to issue a statement that “…we do not share the views of this individual franchisee. As a company, our values of respect, accountability, involvement, heart, and fun are expected to be upheld by all stores and members of the Bruster’s brand. We are a brand that is focused on a friendly, family environment where all are welcome and comfortable.
Dodging political and cultural land mines can be especially challenging and vexing. Who or what is in or out today? Whose side are my customers on? What should I say or do about it, and what impact will that have on our business?
Here are strategies and tactics to help navigate the shifting winds of public opinion and the battles in the culture wars that are being fought every day.
Keep up with what’s happening in the world, your industry, and your community.
You should not be the last to know about trends, developments, or major late-breaking news that impact your business, customers, or the public.
Know your audiences.
Be sensitive to the needs, priorities, and sensibilities of your clients, customers, and stakeholders.
Don’t say or do anything that might concern, upset, or send the wrong signals to those who are important to your success. Before you say or do anything, write down what you are thinking of saying or doing. Then read what you wrote out loud to yourself and others and ask trusted friends dan colleagues for their opinion. Would your words or actions make things better or worse? If it will make things worse, then why do or say it in the first place?
Know your priorities.
What’s more important for you and your company — to make a statement and take a stand about something in the news or to make money and stay in business? If both are equally important, how will you balance one against the other?
Review all of your company’s policies and procedures periodically to ensure they comply with current laws, regulations, and accepted best practices.
Keep social media up to date.
Monitor and update your website and social media accounts for any potentially controversial comments or content. Take all necessary and prudent steps to help ensure your sites will not be hacked or hijacked.
As soon as you see, hear, or become aware of something that may cause a problem for your small business, act immediately. After you have found out the who, what, when, where, why, and how of the situation, do something about it.
Have a plan.
Prepare and update a crisis management plan that you can implement when, despite all of your best efforts, a crisis hits. Because no single plan will fit every kind of crisis, prepare different plans for different crisis scenarios.
Assemble a team.
Ask key employees to be members of a crisis management team that would implement your crisis plan when the unforeseen and unexpected happens. The appoint someone to lead the team, and spokesperson who would represent the company to the public and the media in a crisis.
Test your plan on a regular basis.
Having a plan and not testing it is not much different than having no plan at all. The more you practice implementing the plan, the more prepared you will be if and when you need it.
Always have a ready statement.
Don’t say “no comment” when you are asked questions by reporters, editors, bloggers. Why? Because saying ‘no comment” implies you may be covering something up or are embarrassed or afraid to tell the truth. It’s always better to answer a question the best you can based on the information you have at the time.
Know how you would would bounce back from a crisis.
Planning your recover from a crisis is just as important as planning your response to it. You’ll need to get back to normal as quickly as possible, and a recovery plan will help you do just that.
Follow the two Crisis Management Law of Holes. The first law is that you find yourself in a hole, stop digging. The second law: after you climb out of the first hole, don’t fall or dig yourself into another hole.
Keep in mind the experiences of other small businesses that have already gone through a crisis. What can you learn from how they handled — or caused — their crisis? There is no need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to the best ways to respond to, manage, and recover from a crisis. There are plenty of lessons from which you can learn.
Finally, assume nothing. The Crisis Management Hall of Shame is filled with companies that likely assumed they would never have a crisis. Just ask Bruster’s Real Ice Cream — or the small business that’ll have their first crisis tomorrow.
Edward Segal is a crisis management expert, consultant, and author of a new book on crisis management, “Crisis Ahead: 101 Ways to Prepare for and Bounce Back from Disasters, Scandals and Other Emergencies” which is rated the #1 best new book on crisis management for 2020 by BookAuthority.org. Learn more about Crisis Ahead at PublicRelations.com and order your copy from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and independent book stores via this link: https://publicrelations.com/order-book/.