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Insuring your Reputation

Crisis communication planning is a policy you can’t afford to skip

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You probably wouldn’t think of going without insurance on your house or your vehicle. When raising a family, life insurance is a must for many parents. Policies covering loss of physical assets, liability and more are standard for most businesses.

Most of us buy insurance with the goal of never needing it. We want the peace of mind of knowing we could repair our home, replace our vehicle, provide for our family, or make sure the business we worked so hard to build can recover.

But what about your reputation? While facilities and vehicles can be replaced, rebuilding a reputation following a poorly handled and communicated crisis may be impossible. The credibility as a trusted supplier, employer and community neighbor you’ve established can literally be gone in an instant and, potentially, your business with it.

Those who work in the feed and grain businesses are well aware of the inherent risks within their industries, risks that sometimes have devastating and high-profile consequences. We saw this most recently in late May when an explosion destroyed a Wisconsin corn processing plant and ultimately left five employees dead and several others injured. The advent of the 24/7 news cycle, social media and citizen journalists capable of shooting and posting smartphone photos and video means an incident or issue can quickly put the local, national and even international spotlight on a business and its leaders.

In such times of crisis, businesses are ultimately judged not on only how they respond physically, but on how they manage communication to the news media, their employees, neighbors, customers, regulators, elected officials and many others. Falling short when it comes to communication — especially to those who work for you or do business with you — can have serious repercussions on your ability to recover from a crisis.

The moment of crisis is NOT the time to start figuring out what you’d say, how you’d say it and who will say it. You need an insurance policy in the form of a thorough and thoughtful crisis communication plan that creates a solid foundation for timely, focused response. You plan, train and drill your team to respond to fires, grain engulfment and more. Shouldn’t you do the same when it comes to communication?

Don’t let crisis communication planning languish on your long “we’ll get to that” list. Make it a priority for your leadership team. Bring in outside expertise to assist, if needed. Share the plan with your staff. Then, as you should do with any insurance policy, pull it out and review it annually, making sure the details of your “coverage” remain relevant.

The time put into crisis communication planning and preparation — while not a guarantee of a perfect outcome — increases the odds you can protect your reputation and, most important, rebuild your business. A crisis communication plan is one insurance policy you can’t afford to be without.

Lani Jordan is principal of Lani Jordan Strategic Communication, specializing in strategic communication planning, executive communication, crisis communication and issues management that help businesses and organizations succeed. Previously, for more than three decades, she led corporate communication for CHS Inc. Reach her at [email protected] or (651) 470-8217.

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