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The success of any construction company rests on the reputation it’s built over time. But when a crisis hits, all that work can be destroyed if the situation isn’t handled properly.

A crisis is any situation that has the potential to threaten the integrity or reputation of your company. Accidents, construction defects, zoning issues, financial or legal disputes and other incidents are inherent potential risks in the construction industry, and resulting negative media attention can sway public perceptions and derail a company’s future growth.

With a solid construction crisis communication strategy, however, the damage to a company’s reputation can be minimized.

What to Do Before a Crisis Occurs

As with any situation, responding thoughtfully is always a better approach than reacting once your management team is in crisis mode. In addition to developing a business continuity plan, there are steps you can take long before a crisis occurs to maximize your preparedness and ability to respond quickly when a situation arises.

1. Identify a Crisis Communication Team

Identify team members responsible for springing into action in the event a crisis occurs. The crisis team should consist of key internal and external individuals, including the business owner or CEO, personnel responsible for public relations and construction site safety, managers in key departments, and legal counsel. Make a list of the people on the team, their responsibilities, and their contact information including cell phone numbers. The team’s job is to create a plan of action to handle crisis and select a spokesperson.

2. Designate a Spokesperson

Identify one person as the primary spokesperson, and one back-up, to represent the company, make official statements and answer media questions throughout the crisis. The spokesperson needs to be calm-tempered and skilled in handling media, comfortable in front of a camera, and in a position of authority to establish credibility and confidence. Instruct employees that any and all media inquiries should be directed to the spokesperson and to resist commenting about the situation on their personal social media profiles. Train the spokesperson in media relations.

3. Establish Notification Systems and Media Policies

Having a predetermined notification system in place will allow you to rapidly reach your stakeholders using a wide range of communication methods. Consider how you’ll reach key people in the event your crisis involves a natural disaster where traditional communication lines may be unavailable; use technology and social media to your advantage.

You’ll also want to determine a location to be used as a media center, which should be located separately from the offices of the crisis communications team. Determine a setting for interviews and press briefings with a generic backdrop and no distractions. Identify how and when you’ll communicate with employees, customers, suppliers and others closely tied with your organization.

4. Develop Prepared Statements

Prepare a holding statement in advance that can be used to make an initial general response to the media when the release of information or knowledge about a crisis first becomes known.

Work with your legal team to develop such a holding statement. In general, an initial statement may acknowledge or confirm the incident along with when it happened and any measures that are being taken to protect the public, responders or others who may be affected. Also acknowledge cooperation with the appropriate authorities and any emergency plans that have been activated.

5. Create Collateral Materials

Prepare informational brochures or fact sheets about the company in advance to give to reporters or others seeking background information about the company. While much of this information may be found on your website, providing it succinctly in a single document is helpful and can minimize the spread of faulty information found elsewhere on the internet.

What to Do When a Crisis Occurs

Once the pre-crisis management plan is implemented, you’ll be prepared to deploy your team quickly if or when a crisis occurs.

1. Determine the Message

One of the first responsibilities of the crisis communication team is to determine the appropriate message to address the situation. It is crucial in a crisis to tell it all, tell it fast and tell the truth, but consult with the legal expert on your crisis team regarding certain considerations. When a company involved in a crisis doesn’t communicate immediately, they lose their greatest opportunity to control events and the messaging surrounding them.

The first and foremost goal is public safety, followed by protecting the integrity and reputation of the company. It should go without saying, but never lie, deny or hide your involvement. Likewise, ignoring the problem will only make it worse.

2. Communicate the Message

Your first news release should include the who, what, when and where of the situation. Avoid speculation, but do show sincere concern for the public and for your employees. With your holding statement as a starting point, the crisis communications team can develop the crisis-specific messages required for any given situation. Keep it simple.

Have no more than three main messages that go to all stakeholders and, as necessary, some audience-specific messages for individual groups of stakeholders. Coordinate messages with public officials on the scene, and post your official statement directly to your blog and include links on your social media channels.

Restrict all interviews to the primary spokesperson, back-up spokesperson, or your technical expert. At the onset of the crisis, the spokesperson should spend time with advisors rehearsing prepared statements and answers to possible “tough” questions that reporters may ask. Controlling the interview process is key to managing the crisis. Do not talk off the record.

3. Monitoring and Follow Up

Monitor what is being said about your construction company on various social channels and traditional media. Setting up a Google alert can help notify you of any online activities or mentions. Just as important is to gauge the reactions of your customers and other stakeholders so you know what issues need to be addressed and can address any errors in media coverage. Remember to engage your employees and encourage transparency to protect and strengthen your culture.

Establish a log to record all emails, texts, phone calls and other communication from the media or other parties who inquire about the crisis to avoid overlooking a required response.

Hopefully your construction company will never need to face a crisis that makes the news or negatively impacts your brand reputation. With a properly executed crisis management plan, however, you can be prepared to address it head on and mitigate the risks of a poorly executed response.

The strategic risk advisors at McClone partner with organizations to address their specific needs, from helping to develop continuity plans to addressing safety issues. Contact us today to talk through how a partnership with McClone can help your company protect itself from the unexpected.

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A collection of articles from the McClone team with the helpful knowledge and insights to ensure your organization is well protected.