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Communication a critical crisis component

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This article was originally published in Insight Publications 

We’re several weeks into the COVID-19 crisis, and it’s hard to comprehend how fast the manufacturing world has changed. Some companies have switched gears to produce personal protective equipment, needed medical equipment and mobile health care units. Others, such as meatpacking facilities, have shut down, while others still, like paper manufacturers, have increased production.

The impact of a pandemic is varied and comes with many scenarios, but one constant is the need for ongoing communications. Given the sudden appearance of COVID-19, many companies focused on operations without putting a lot of energy into communicating internally or externally. Considering the extent of this pandemic, you need to focus more than ever on communications. Communications should align with your operational changes to help protect your company’s brand. Your customers and employees depend on it. Your reputation as a manufacturer depends on it.

Maybe you haven’t yet been able to prioritize your communication, but you or someone at your company needs to ensure it is a focus. Effective communication has always been important, but communicating during a crisis is imperative. Consider how much investment you have made in your company. Why wouldn’t you develop your crisis communication plan now to ensure you’re positioning your company to emerge as strong as possible? The last thing you want to happen is having to shut down your plant because of an outbreak and needing a clear head to draft a memo to employees or a statement to the media.

You can boil a crisis communication plan down to three components: process, people and channels. Focus on what the process is for your communications and pair it with the right team members to determine both the messaging and the best way to deliver it. Consider all the groups of people you may need to communicate to, from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to employees, customers, vendors, suppliers and more. Gather as much of the information as you can in advance and put it in one document that you can access in multiple places.

Think about what scenarios are likely to happen at your manufacturing facility and build communications around them. Will these communications be perfect? Probably not, but it’s better than starting from ground zero when a crisis hits.

Here’s what you may be thinking about my recommendation to build a crisis communication plan now:

  • I don’t have the time
  • I don’t have the resources
  • If anything happens, no one will know

Let’s address the first objection, I don’t have the time. Based on my experience, if you don’t take the time now, you will end up spending at least three times the amount of time and resources if you don’t plan now. The process of planning itself will uncover risks, which you can mitigate now through operational improvements. Let’s hope you don’t have to use your crisis communication plan for COVID-19. However, if you need one in the future, many of the principles laid out in this plan will apply to other scenarios as well.

Another common objection is thinking you don’t have the resources. If you don’t have the resources to plan now, you probably won’t have the resources to respond if a crisis occurs either. That in and of itself is a risk to your company. Find the resources to work through this plan. Perhaps you have a business consultant, banker, insurance broker, accountant, crisis communication expert or others who could help. Ask the group for lessons they’ve learned or recommendations of others to help.

If some part of you is thinking that if anything happens, word won’t get out, you’re wrong. In the age of social media, 24/7 new media and the community health aspect, any issues at your plant will get out. If a crisis occurs, as a leader you owe proactive, reassuring communications to those who work for and with you. Be factual, reassuring and truthful. I’m not suggesting every situation requires you to send out communications to everyone, but get them prepared now in case you do. When a crisis occurs, people experience a fight or flight response, and if you freeze in panic, you are literally trying to find a plan or process to work through. Wouldn’t it be better to have that plan in place if you have a moment of panic?

As Wisconsin manufacturers, you are the heartbeat of the state’s economy. We need you all to be prepared as much as possible to protect your company because your future is our future.

Lisa Cruz owns Red Shoes Inc., a marketing and PR agency known for its crisis communication expertise. Cruz most recently was published in the International Journal of Brand Strategy as well as several national publications. She also was recognized as one of the nation’s Top Women in PR according to PR News. She can be reached at 920-358-3188 or redshoesinc.com

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