(Editor’s note: This story is part of a recurring series of commentaries from professionals connected to the hemp industry. Diane Mulligan is president and CEO of M&C Communications.)
I came face-to-face with a bear.
I was completely caught off guard, never having thought about that scenario. Obviously, I am writing this, so it worked out. But at the time, I panicked. I ran. It was the worst thing I could have done.
What if your business has a “bear” moment and something happens that you never imagined? Will you panic and do the worst thing possible?
Building a CBD business takes blood, sweat and tears, as the saying goes – but do you have reputation protection?
Protecting your company’s brand is key. What does protecting your brand mean? It doesn’t only mean protecting your logo, it means taking steps to protect the essence of your company’s identity.
What are the three main components to manage your reputation and protect your CBD business?
- Build customer loyalty and trust.
- Create a reputation-safety action plan.
- Figure out what is next.
Build customer loyalty and trust
Research tells us brand loyalty is not strong at this moment. So you are not fighting an uphill battle against a big name; instead, building your brand is essential right now.
Now is the time you need to build your tribe, with what call the 4 C’s: clear, consistent, compassionate and conversational messaging. Educate your customer and increase your thought leadership position.
Create a reputation-safety action plan
There are five questions to answer for a reputation-safety action plan, so you know how to manage a crisis.
- WHO makes a good crisis spokesperson?
You need to build a crisis communications team with a lead and backup spokesperson. It is especially important that they have media training. If you have a large organization, they may be from the department that is most impacted by the crisis or brand challenge. If you have a smaller business, it may be the owner. Many times, the designated spokesperson is unavailable—so it is paramount, no matter the size of your company, that you have two people who are media trained.
Your messages should be different for different audiences. Think about the most important information for your employees, your customers and your stockholders. You must have an efficient and effective message-approval process that is well understood prior to any event. The media will want the basics: who, what, when, where and, most important, how? How did this happen, how were people impacted, how did you prepare, how are you going to handle this situation moving forward?
- WHAT do you communicate in a crisis: pictures and video
The old adage of “a picture speaks a thousand words” still stands. The press will immediately be looking for visuals, and it won’t matter if they are print or broadcast.
Do you already have videos on your website or Facebook page? What types of pictures are on your Instagram or other social media? If you just have pictures of your products, you are marketing, not building your community. Do you have informative and passionate video interviews with your CBD company leaders online?
These are all items that can provide information for the press to use, and they reduce the amount of speculation about who you are and what you do. Think about your policy on security camera releases. Pre-producing infographics can also be extremely effective in managing the media.
- WHEN will you update the media?
Have a location and social media plan for updates: Who will do it? How will you manage it? How quickly can you get response approval? How will you monitor reaction to your message? Make sure you have a Twitter presence and identify your channel to the press.
- WHERE would you stage press conferences, and how you would manage them?
Choose a location that has something you want to be shown in the background. But also realize the press will want to get as close to a situation as possible.
- HOW will you update facts and respond to mitigate negative reactions to the incident, personnel, etc.?
Your plan must be fast and nimble. Develop criteria for when you should bring in outside public-relations counsel and who would approve it.
The last step is to figure out what’s next.
There are many different types of business crises. The key is to score them appropriately, so you know where to spend your limited time for your crisis planning.
Brainstorm crisis scenarios
Get your team together and come up with every crazy scenario you can think of. Nothing is too outlandish. Make sure everyone who leads any part of your team is involved. Think about supply chain, pricing, personnel, finances, criminal activity, changes in CBD law, FDA regulations, hacking, intellectual property attacks, fires, shootings … the gamut.
Now take a deep breath. Score your crisis scenarios on a scale of 1-10.
Here are some questions to ask: First, what is going on the world that could impact these scenarios to make them more or less likely to occur: legislation, taxes, geopolitical forces, new industry trends, customer sentiment change?
- How seriously will this crisis impact your business?
- How many departments could be impacted by this situation?
- What is the probability of this scenario occurring in the next six to 12 months?
- Would developing a crisis-intervention plan improve the outcome for your CBD business?
It was a surprise that so many states identified MJ dispensaries as essential businesses as the COVID-19 pandemic emerged. Who would have thought that a year ago? Probably this criterion would have knocked out considering a pandemic for crisis preparation.
This is a perfect example of why it is so important for you to update your crisis plan forecast every year if not every six months. You might be surprised what types of scenarios rise to the top of the list. Choose the three most likely scenarios and develop your standby crisis-management plans to mitigate the likely impacts on your business.
Develop your crisis-management team
Make sure to involve all the team leaders who helped you brainstorm. Your goal is to encourage a team approach instead of a siloed approach.
To have each member better understand crisis impact on other departments, find out what pressures they experience and how each department plays a role supporting the other. Go through each scenario and talk about how it would impact each team member’s specific audience.
Finally, designate a crisis leader and assistant leader to handle each scenario and develop a plan outline, no more than one to two pages, for each scenario based on the five-step Reputation Safety Plan outlined above.
Taking these three steps – building trust with your customers, having an overall reputation safety action plan and forecasting issues or crises – will keep you aware of any “bears” that may lie around the corner so you will be ready to protect your business.
Diane Mulligan is president of M&C Communications, a public-relations firm in Colorado. She can be reached at [email protected]