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Expert advice for CEOs during a crisis

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This article was originally published in FOOD DIVE

Lisa Cruz owns Red Shoes Inc., a marketing and PR agency known for its crisis communication expertise.

CEOs of food supply chain companies that have not experienced direct (or indirect) impact due to COVID-19 should consider themselves fortunate. As seen over the past few weeks, the new coronavirus has negatively impacted the food and beverage industry in many different ways at all levels of the supply chain. Meatpacking facilities have closed due to employees testing positive for COVID-19, farmers have dumped food and raw product due to high supply and lower demand, and grocery stores face staffing shortages due to frontline workers falling ill.

For those CEOs who feel prepared and have an operational crisis plan that has been tested, it is time now to take that preparedness to the next level and develop a crisis communication plan.

Here are a few lessons in crisis leadership to take into consideration:

Plan now: Those who have not brought up the importance of creating a crisis communication plan during this time are probably hesitant due to lack of time and resources. Make the time now. The question businesses need to ask is what kind of time and resources they will spend on a crisis if they don’t at least have a head start on building out a communication plan.

Companies can spend three times the amount of time and energy reacting in the middle of the crisis than they would if they prepared a communication plan ahead of time. And remember this: The absolute best time to plan is before a crisis hits, when leadership has a clear head. Waiting until a crisis is not the time to lead a team as you attempt to write coherent messaging, assemble contact lists, find login information and passwords for communication channels and more, all while under pressure.

Timely communications: When a crisis occurs, customers and other target audiences expect companies to communicate often and accurately, especially now. They need and want reassurances that their suppliers are taking all of the correct steps to mitigate risks to their customers, employees and others. All the trust built over the years through hard earned relationship building can be lost in the blink of an eye if companies are not communicating often enough.

Last but not least, companies cannot forget their internal team of employees. This audience is just as important to communicate with during a time of crisis. The entire team, especially those on the front lines, are an integral part of your company’s overall response. By delivering timely and thoughtful communications to them, they, in turn, will provide invaluable support for customers and the community.

Words matter: The words used to deliver news about plant employees testing positive for COVID-19 speaks volumes. When developing communications, it’s important to read the words out loud and seek a second opinion on all communications. Companies should consider all possible interpretations of the words chosen to deliver the message. The words should be straight to the point and deliver the message in a matter-of-fact way while still showing empathy and honesty. The message should also provide reassurance to customers and provide a way for them to contact the company and its leadership directly with any further questions.

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