Managing reputational risks: How to create a successful crisis communication plan

Whether you are an SME, a start-up, or a big international company, and irrespective of how strong your brand image is, one thing is for sure: a crisis communications plan is a must for your business. Why? Because the reputation of a company depends not only on its own activities but also on unforeseeable, external factors.

Let’s take the case of Banham Poultry, which is a perfect communication crisis example and case study. They were acquired by Boparan Private Office (BPO) in 2021, and in October 2021 was fined £300,000 for environmental breaches under the previous owner. From the beginning of 2019 to September 2021, Banham repeatedly failed to stop odour pollution from its slaughterhouse which affected the lives of people living and working in and near Attleborough, Norfolk. In addition to the fine of £300,000, Boparan Private Office, as Banham Poultry’s owners, now face the challenge of maintaining public and business partners’ trust.

Reputational issues resulting from crises such as the breach of environmental law by Banham require a comprehensive crisis communication framework to be in place before disaster strikes to ensure a swift and effective response. We’ve outlined below three basic steps every business needs to follow to start you thinking about your crisis management processes:

Step one: Identify potential crisis situations

Step one is to create a list of potential crises. For this you need to consider your business’ strategic direction as well as your company’s activities and relations with stakeholders and consumers. With Banham Poultry, the company’s spokesperson told Food Manufacture that “the new management team have shown commitment to being a good neighbour and are keen to play a positive role in the local community”. He added that “a planning application has already been submitted to significantly improve the site, and Banham will continue to have positive dialogue with local residents and the regulator”. This is a good first step from BPO, and shows that they’ve started to look at possible solutions to Banham’s issues. However, to be truly future-proof, they now need to think about how they would handle a situation where these solutions don’t work, and another crisis unfolds.

Step 2: Study and test your crisis and reputation management plan

The next step is to create a reputation and crisis management log; a comprehensive document that lists and prioritises the potential crises based on their impact and threat to the business. This could include anything from threats to health or safety of employees, customers, or the public, financial, legal or regulatory risk or, of course, reputational risks. Unfortunately, in Banham Poultry’s case, their odour issues caused a multitude of problems falling under many of these umbrellas. Then you need to consider the steps needed to manage a reputation crisis and the specific areas a dedicated team would focus on.

When testing your reputation management plant, you should think about developments that would stress your business and the implementation of the plan. In the Banham case, if there’s slow progress or even a failure by BPO in preventing any future odour pollution, they could be criticised by competing businesses, which could be picked up by the media.

Step 3: Prepare for media fallout

Your crisis management team needs to be prepared to handle media inquiries, change a discourse and rebuild reputation. BPO’s comments in Food Manufacture’s article on odour pollution in Norfolk was a good move, highlighting that, following the takeover, Balham turned a new page and “will work very hard to eliminate these issues in future”.

Does your business have pre-prepared statements for every possible crisis? Do you have a nominated spokesperson who is media trained for interviews? Do you have a plan to rebuild the reputation of your business should the worst happen? These are all questions you need to think about when creating a media plan for a crisis.

No matter how strong the reputation of your company is and how stable you think you currently are, unpredictable external developments can cause real, impactful damage to your brand. Having a detailed crisis communication strategy tailored to your business in place, then testing and regularly updating it is critical to any company’s survival following a crisis.

Had BPO formulated a sound crisis communication protocol it may well have managed to better address the reputation problem that followed Banham’s environmental breach, control the coverage of the issue and avoid being in the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

Whitehouse’s team of experts can help devise a crisis communications plan tailored to your businesses need. Our integrated crisis management service can be deployed at short notice and supports both internal and external communications with all your stakeholders through to government relationships. It spans the suite of communications disciplines from message preparation and counsel, emergency press team, social media management, stakeholder and government relations, political monitoring, internal communications, and long-term reputation management.

The Whitehouse team are qualified in CPD-accredited Bespoke Managing Risk and Crisis, trained by the LSPR.

For more information, please contact Whitehouse Communications Director, Mayar Raouf.