Ward to the Wise

How To Assess Your Risk For Media Exposure

feature-templateAll organizations are vulnerable to media exposure. Many times we welcome and aggressively pursue positive media coverage, such as when a new product launchesor a major new real estate development is announced. Other times, such as when a crisis or poor employee judgment event occurs, you may find yourself wishing you could bury your head in the sand until the brouhaha blows over. Unfortunately, hiding from the media and willing away a crisis situation does not work. When the media comes knocking, you must be prepared to respond quickly and concisely.

Organizations that prepare in advance for unfavorable/negative events are the ones that weather the storms with their reputations intact. It’s called Crisis Communication Planning, and it begins by assessing an organization’s risk of media exposure. Sometimes referred to as a Vulnerability Audit or Vulnerability Assessment, this communications process is a critical tool for all organizations regardless of size or industry.

A Vulnerability Assessment requires that you take an honest, hard “look under the hood” of your organization and candidly identify your vulnerabilities. Then, you identify those who would be affected by the events/actions of your company and carefully craft responses tailored to each of those audiences.

Here’s How To Get Started

Assess Your Risk

Ask yourself, “Where is our exposure?” This is the foundation of the assessment. It’s a time-consuming process requiring in-depth interviews with staff at all levels of the organization.  This will provide you with a broad and deep perspective of the company’s exposure to risk. Examine your organization for the ordinary and the extraordinary, and do not let a “failure of the imagination” or the fear of offending someone stop you from identifying and planning for a risk. A discrimination lawsuit can be as damaging to a company as a plant explosion or the unexpected death of your CEO.

During this phase it is essential that you engage the staff at different management levels and job functions to ensure that you have a range of viewpoints reflected in the assessment. Get input on their views of the concerns/issues that could potentially impact the company, its customers, employees, the public or stakeholders.  You will find that executives may have vastly different perspectives than front-line employees on these issues, but all concerns, opinions and ideas are important and should be documented.

Once you have identified and catalogued potential areas of concern/ vulnerabilities/ issues that can result in media exposure, you can begin assessing who would be affected by that exposure.

Identify Your Audiences

Start by asking yourself, “Who cares about the company’s issues/concerns?”  This should be a broad list and take into consideration primary, secondary and tertiary target audiences.

For example, primary audiences would include company executives, employees and their families, customers, shareholders, regulators, government officials, the local business community, business partners and others who are involved in the day-to-day operations of your company.  Secondary/tertiary audiences are those with whom you have some association/relationship, but not on as consistent a basis. Keep in mind that audiences will vary depending on the nature of the crisis or situation.

Create A Planned Response

The final phase, as intimidating as it sounds, is to create various scenarios around all identified issues and concerns and create responses to each, tailored to the different audiences.

It’s not uncommon for organizations to have a binder composed of hundreds of pages of questions/scenarios and carefully drafted responses to each. This way, when an issue arises and the media calls, you can refer to these previously reviewed and approved responses, locate the appropriate one and quickly respond to the inquiry.  Vetting the responses through attorneys during the development stage allows you to respond immediately to inquiries, rather than waiting until a crisis arises to get legal approval.

With today’s 24/7 news cycle most organizations do not have the time to formulate responses in real time to crisis situations. Having a plan, with basic responses already on hand will buy you time as you hone the message to the specific crisis. And what’s the process for handling such an unplanned event?  Unfortunately, most companies that call Ward for help in the moment of crisis are wasting the most precious moments just after the event trying to ask for advice and a plan, when the moment calls for execution of a plan, not creation of one. The outcome is greatly influenced by what occurs in the first moments after an unplanned event, and once the dominos fall in a direction, you will have a hard time re-directing the public conversation about your company and your management’s integrity, leadership and credibility.

Companies that fare best in such high-pressure public events don’t operate in denial.  They face reality, conduct honest assessments, create and communicate roles and responsibilities to protect their owner and shareholder interests, drill their plan, and deploy their plan when the day comes.

Risk assessment is about being proactive regarding your exposure in the media. It does not have to be complicated. In fact, it can be quite simple, but it IS time consuming and requires the commitment and involvement of representatives from every level of your organization. When conducted correctly and formally implemented within the organization, a media exposure assessment will prepare you to more adeptly manage through an uncontrolled situation.

Assessing your risks won’t prevent damage or crises from occurring, but it will put you in a much better position because you’ve planned ahead. You’re prepared. In most cases, there’s never a reason to pull out the response plan. That does not mean that responsible companies shouldn’t go through this exercise anyway. Your reputation is at risk, and the cost of recovery will likely be more than you would have spent preparing with response protocols from the front lines to the C-suite.  Ask yourself, if you don’t have time and money to prepare, is it likely you will have time and money to spend months and perhaps years after an unplanned event trying to heal the damage to your brand and your business?

Of course, you could be right…it could never happen to you, could it?

Contact us if you’d like more information on how Ward can assist you with your Crisis Communication Planning and Response.

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