When planning for a crisis, or dealing with an emerging problem, it is vital to ensure channels of communication with government remain open and accessible, suggests industry expert Janet Armstrong
It is every company’s worst case scenario – safety claims about your number one product have been made by several consumers, the issue has exploded and it has hit the mainstream and social media!
In the middle of a crisis like this, the default position for many companies and especially senior management in companies, is to focus on media outreach and media management. While this is a critical step to the successful management of a crisis (and one that has to be carefully and strategically implemented), too often, another critical stakeholder is overlooked – local and national government.
Government relations is playing an increasingly important role in the lifecycle of crisis management, including crisis detection, prevention and mitigation.
Why is government important? For many companies, the government is the regulator. Decisions about product approval, regulation and distribution usually rests with government. And those government officials responsible for regulation need help. If the safety of your product is being questioned, you can be sure they are getting questions internally from senior officials or from the public. They need information so they can be seen to be informed and on top of the issue.
Increased scrutiny via social channels
The growth of the internet and the power of social media to reach millions has increased scrutiny on government and its actions to respond to an issue that may affect the safety of its citizens or environment.
Once government and regulators have commented, the crisis can turn into a major political story with significant business and reputation impacts for your company.
The middle of a crisis is not the time to be making and building new government relations. It is extremely important that your company have a comprehensive and strategic government affairs plan in place before a crisis happens. Companies that have built credibility and trust with a government in advance will have a much better chance of a successful resolution to a company crisis.
Good relationships with government can also help you detect a potential crisis before it happens. If government is made aware of a potential safety issue or receives questions about the safety of your products from the public, they may contact you before the issue gathers traction. However, in order to do that, they have to know who to call and whom they can trust for a credible answer.
Consider the case of a medical device company. One of their premium products was the subject of a negative news article that was about to be published. The company, aware the article was coming, was able to reach out in advance to its comprehensive network of government contacts across the globe to present the numerous positive safety studies for the product. They were also able to have third party experts provide their positive analysis of the studies to government. Government officials were aware of the issue before it hit the media and had the information needed to answer questions from their stakeholders. A potential product crisis was averted.
Detailed stakeholder mapping of government including regulators, civil servants and elected officials is critical for each country where your company does business. Assigning relationship holders in your company, whether it be the country Government Affairs lead or a senior business person, is necessary. Regular meeting or communications with these stakeholders should be expected from your company representative. And of course, this stakeholder mapping should be part of a larger strategic government affairs plan for each country. Focus on the government’s priorities and how your company can help government meet its goals, while still achieving those of your company, is a critical element of a government affairs plan.
During a crisis, remember to give as much information as possible to your government contacts, even if you don’t know much when the crisis hits. Make the contact and begin the dialogue with them. You don’t want government officials to have to search for answers.
A centralized approach to message development is also vitally important. You want to make sure everyone is getting the same message at the same time. And continue that outreach beyond the crisis. Focus on protecting your credibility and during the crisis, map and remap your government stakeholders as the situation develops. It is possible, if the issue escalates, that you may have to increase your government communication to include more senior officials.
Using every available channel to communicate to your stakeholders is important. And don’t forget, your relationship and communication with important government stakeholders is key to the successful management of a crisis and protecting your company’s reputation.
Janice Armstrong is an Associate of CS&A International based in Singapore with over 25 years experience in government affairs, and issues and crisis management for major companies in the food, pharma and agro sectors