When creating a communications plan or branding statement, one of the most important things to come up with is: “How are you unique?” It’s a question that a lot of business owners feel challenged in answering, but it’s the key to making them stand out from the crowd.
Now I want to take that idea one step further: As important as it is to understand your strengths, it is even more critical to know your skeletons, or areas of vulnerability. Understand these skeletons and work to correct them, but also be prepared to communicate about them.
How well do you really know and understand your organization…it’s structure, the mission statement, the history, past, present and future challenges. Who are you? Why do you exist? Who is your customer? By answering these questions, you’ll find your businesses strengths….and weaknesses.
For example, in the mid-1800s, a group of Adventists set a date for the end of the world. Although the mainstream Seventh-day Adventist Church has never sanctioned date-setting, it is an irrefutable reputation of the church. One cannot just respond to a question on date-setting with a denial. There must be a brief, sensible explanation on how it happened in the first place and why it no longer happens now. (I counseled them on this during the Waco Cult standoff in 1993.)
Besides understanding our own strengths and weaknesses, it is imperative to know what is going on in our community, our industry, with small businesses, and overall--our world. What are challenges that others are facing? You may not be immune to those same challenges for long. What is happening in your specific community? In the business and political worlds in which we operate? It is important to have a grasp on the world around us to put our own strengths and weaknesses into perspective.
When I owned a sign shop in the mid-90s, we used vinyl to make the lettering on our signs and banners. It was a big step forward from the toxic paints that had been used in the past. At the same time, I was aware that there was a lot of publicity around the fact that disposable diapers, such as Pampers and Huggies, did not break down in landfills and there was a push to go back to cloth diapers for the environment.
So what do diapers in a landfill have to do with a sign shop?
I investigated the vinyl we used for our signs and found out they would take far longer than diapers to break down. If diapers had become a major story, what about all of these new vinyl sign shops that were opening across the country? Fortunately, this never came to the media’s attention, but I knew it was an area of vulnerability if it did break, and I was prepared with answers.
Access where you are vulnerable. Seek out the vulnerable areas within your area where you can prevent a crisis and immediately begin to correct the problem.
With the advent of social media, we are even more vulnerable as word spreads virally much more quickly.
This is where a crisis communications plan is helpful. You note a problem, anticipate what type of crisis may occur even after taking precautions, and then label a set of steps to take place to handle the situation and communicate during the crisis. Have your message points ready and include plans for social media. It’s far better to do this in advance than in a reactive mode.