A robust crisis manual for a multi-national business with staff in seven countries

Communicating effectively when a business has staff based across nine sites in seven European territories is a challenge, but in a crisis situation, with the brand’s reputation at stake, it is vital to have a coherent plan in place.

We were asked to help an international retailer devise and implement a crisis communications plan; educate staff on how to apply it; and test their response.

A crisis manual was essential for the business so that staff understood three key points:

How to identify a reputational crisis and decide when it should be escalated

Who should deal with the crisis, depending on its severity, and how information should be communicated internally

How the business would respond to media inquiries and communicate with its partners and stakeholders

A streamlined communications process was introduced, giving clear guidelines to staff on when and how to communicate information up the chain of command and creating leaner decision-making groups to assess and respond to crisis situations.

We devised and ran a series of crisis training sessions for each of the retailer’s European businesses to help staff experience the process in a safe environment, providing feedback on their responses.

A realistic, bespoke scenario was created for each business, which unfolded in real time. Typically, the crisis response group in each business included members of the operations, retail, marketing, communications and legal teams. They were put under pressure to frame their responses in a fast-moving situation, dealing with media inquiries and the escalation of the story on social media channels.

The sessions were led by our Director of Reputation, Tim Jotischky, an experienced former national newspaper journalist, who coached staff on how journalists would approach a breaking news story and taught them techniques to handle journalists’ inquiries.

The crisis manual was adopted throughout the business and used as the framework for dealing with all reputational issues. It created a leaner and more agile crisis process, identifying key individuals and giving them responsibility to lead the business response.

The crisis training sessions were rolled out across the business, with the flexibility to be run virtually or face-to-face. Regular meetings were held with senior communications team leaders to discuss best practice and analyze how other businesses had responded to crisis situations.

In one of the European businesses, a crisis scenario, which had been played out in the training session, happened for real a few weeks later and staff reported that they were able to put their training into practice and felt confident dealing with the issue.

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