by Edward Segal
What’s your worst trade show nightmare—a catastrophe that could threaten your organization’s image and reputation, your show’s traffic, and your relations with customers? Do you feel powerless to do anything about possible a disaster?
Fortunately, there’s something you can do now to help guard against the nightmare from coming true and ensure you will be able to manage any crisis, if it becomes a reality.
The solution: Be prepared.
- List everything that could possibly go wrong in connection with your show.
- Take every step possible to guard against those scenarios.
- Make sure that you have a workable plan in place that can be quickly and effectively implemented to respond to and handle those situations in case they come to life.
Here are some general guidelines you can use to prepare and implement a communications plan to help avoid, mitigate or manage a crisis. Since no generic crisis communications plan can ever cover all possible situations for every trade show, this plan is intended to serve only as an outline for the basic procedures and policies that should be followed when handling an emergency. These recommendations should be customized to meet the needs, concerns, and realities of your event.
The fundamental strategies behind these recommendations are based on the fact that. in case of a crisis. you should:
- Seek to control the crisis instead of letting the crisis control you.
- Use the latest available appropriate technologies to immediately provide accurate and up-to-date information, and your point of view, about the crisis to your audiences (attendees, exhibitors, vendors, media, the public, etc.).
Your plan should include the following key components.
- Establish guidelines for what constitutes or would trigger a crisis.
- Establish a reporting process to transfer responsibility for the handling of a crisis to a designated team leader.
- Establish guidelines to determine when a team leader should activate a crisis team.
- The team leader should be an individual who is intimately familiar with the organization and can be reached 24-hours a day, 7 days a week. In case of illness, travel, or vacation, a backup team leader should also be appointed.
- The leader should have the authority to deal with the highest ranking officials in the organization.
- Members of the team should include a representative from each major component of the organization.
- In addition, a list should be prepared of the names, phone numbers and email addresses of specialists who would know how to handle the specific details of a kind of crisis or emergency.
- All members of the crisis team should be required to carry cell phones and to appoint backups in case of illness, vacation, or travel.
- When activated, the team should have access to all relative information about the situation, including the who, what, when, where, why and how of the crisis.
- Before it is needed for an actual crisis, the team should meet to come up with the worst-case scenarios, and determine what, from a theoretical standpoint, the options or most appropriate response should be.
- While actual decisions will be based on real situations, a list of potential alternatives that could be discussed and considered during an emergency will help save valuable time.
- These scenarios and responses should be written down and kept as a ready reference for when the team meets.
- Decide who else should be notified about a crisis.
- Determine ahead of time where the team will work, access to communications, secretarial and administrative support, etc.
A spokesperson should be designated who, during a crisis, will:
- Communicate and advance the organization’s viewpoint.
- Release only that information which is needed to inform the media and the public. For example, initial announcement of a crisis should be limited to giving out basic details about the location, type of incident, when it happened, why it happened (if known), and who is involved or affected, and what is being done about it.
- Give updates as appropriate to the media.
- Respond immediately to all press calls, emails, and texts.
- Have access to top officials of the organization 24 hours a day. All members of the leadership of the organization must have access to the spokesperson around the clock. In case of illness or vacation, a backup spokesperson should be designated.
- Go to the scene of the crisis immediately.
- Gather and centralize all information in one location for easy access by team members.
- Release only verified information.
- Refer to written statements that have been approved for release to the press when answering or giving out information.
- Have access to facilities, staff, and resources to prepare, and distribute information as needed.
- Put the matter behind you as soon as possible.
- Provide information from the viewpoint of the public interest, rather than from the organization’s interest.
- Take appropriate steps to communicate information directly to your audiences (e.g., websites, Facebook, text messaging, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram).
- Tell employees or members of the organization what they should say to the press, e.g., “I’m sorry, but you must talk to (insert name) about that.”
- Notify officials of the organization prior to the release of information.
- Keep a list of all calls, emails and other communications that were received during the crisis.
- Prepare a chronology or fact sheet about the crisis. Distribute it as a handout for use by the crisis team, the media, and as an historical account of the crisis that can be used to help evaluate your handling of the situation.
- Thank staff and others in writing immediately after the crisis for a job well done.
- Speculate on the cause of the emergency.
- Speculate on the resumption of normal operations.
- Speculate on the impact or effects of the emergency.
- Speculate on the dollar value of the losses (if any).
- Place blame.
- Leave the press unattended at the scene of the emergency.
- Be defensive or argumentative.
- Minimize the problem.
- Let the story dribble out.
- Release information about people if it will violate their privacy or legal rights.
- Say “no comment” in response to questions from the media. Instead, explain why you cannot comment.
- Distribute copies of the finished crisis communications plan, including phone numbers and email addresses of people to be contacted in case of an emergency, to those likely to need them.
- Stage a mock crisis to identify weed out any bugs and revise or modify these guidelines as needed.
- Hold an annual mock crisis to evaluate the state of readiness of the organization to respond to an emergency, evaluate procedures, and make changes to the plan as necessary.
A crisis management plan is like an insurance policy. You hope you’ll never have a need for it, but if you do, you’ll be glad it’s there.
Edward Segal is a crisis management expert, public relations consultant, and author. Opinions are his own. He can be reached through his website at www.PublicRelations.com.