By Jessie Bland, Georgia Peanut Commission & Southeastern Peanut Farmer
Warren Buffet once said, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.”
It’s safe to say, many organizations hope they are not hit with a crisis that can damage their reputation; however, the reality is, no one is immune to the possibility, so it’s best to ensure proper preparedness takes place. How to best prepare is exactly what members of the Ag Communicators Network learned at the Southeast Regional Workshop hosted in Montgomery, Alabama, this past November. Attendees had a chance to hear examples of real-world experiences from those in the food and animal agricultural industry. The following key points were highlighted as critical when managing a crisis in an organization and/or industry:
- Be Proactive. It’s not a question of if, but when. Forecast the crisis. Ask questions like, “What are the issues of the day and how might they impact our organization or industry?”
- Promote early notification. The sooner an organization knows about an issue, the better. The organization wants to receive the information before the press does.
- Develop a plan. An effective crisis management plan helps create an organization and/or industry response that is organized, efficient and timely.
- Have roles and responsibilities for team members clearly defined. Host training sessions and simulations to assist in preparation.
- Create a response process for your crisis management team:
- Assemble the team to share initial information
- Gather more information
- Reassemble team, assess the situation and make decisions
- Prepare to communicate
- Communicating in a crisis is different. The organization must be first, be right and be credible. Consider implementing the four “Rs” of crisis communication:
- Show regret. The organization should be apologetic for the issue that has developed even if it wasn’t the organization’s fault. Cooperate with relative authorities when needed.
- Respond with details about how the organization is going to prevent reoccurrence.
- Show compassion to those affected and indicate how the organization will provide compensation in to repair the issue.
- Whether the organization caused the problem or not, it should commit and take responsibility to solve the problem.
- Simplify messaging. Put yourself in your audience’s shoes. Keep in mind, sometimes the issue spurs an emotional reaction, which may require a specific response. Think about providing science-based facts to help alleviate fear.
- Be prepared for interviews. Consider key messages, questions and responses that may be covered. Know the reporter and format of interview ahead of time. Be prepared for the most difficult question and never respond with “No comment.” Move the discussion from the “problem” to the “solution.” Be honest.
- Dilution is a solution to pollution. Be an advocate for the industry represented – not just on the bad days, but every day. That, in turn, will help keep positivity on the forefront.
- Train industry advocates. This comes into play in the animal agricultural industry specifically, as many industry organizations have advocacy groups. Make sure those groups are trained on how to respond when issues arise. They may be presented with an opportunity to address the issue before the industry organization has a chance to speak with them.
The Four Phases of Crisis Development
The session, “Crisis Management from Both Sides of the Food Safety Plate,” was comprised of an industry representative panel including: Patrick Archer with the American Peanut Council; Ray Hilburn with the Alabama Poultry & Egg Association; Erin Beasley with the Alabama Cattlemen’s Association; and Dr. Tony Frazier, Alabama State Veterinarian.