Get The Answers: Crisis plan needed when disaster hits

By Gill South

Jonathan Tudor. Photo / Supplied
Jonathan Tudor. Photo / Supplied

Events such as Rena or Maui require quick action, writes Jonathan Tudor, general manager of Professional Public Relations NZ.

There are times when events, orchestrated by nature or man, can throw your business into complete disarray. It's how you handle these occasions that will ensure the continued survival of your company and communications will be an integral part of your success.

What steps would you advise for an eco tourism business affected by the Rena environmental disaster in the Bay of Plenty?

It is critical to combine analysis with action and be quick and smart with decision-making. The public and other audiences always want to see signs of action - initially this might be as simple as reassurances that people are busy finding solutions.

In the case of the Rena, the business would have been gathering the team to evaluate the issue and analyse the potential scenarios and impacts. Being pessimistic and considering the worst-case scenario is important, such as all 1700 tonnes of heavy fuel oil being spilled.

Once scenarios are identified, plans can be put in place.

Then it would have been about changing hats, becoming the optimist and using communications effectively.

This involves determining what the business will say to its various stakeholders including customers, suppliers, media, local authorities, business groups and NGOs and how it will do this, whether through meetings, personalised emails, online and social media or through the media.

This means using communications to support and drive a business forward even in the most adverse of situations. Communications can be used to tell your story. It is an essential part of playing a role and being active in a situation, not passive.

The Maui gas pipe repair emergency put many businesses, large and small, on the back foot. How would you advise clients when their customers are going to be inconvenienced?

The first step is to get your team together - they are your best supporters and advocates. Ideally set up an incident room or at least have a whiteboard where main actions can be written for the day. Analysing scenarios, identifying stakeholders, looking at priorities, developing a response and then implementing it are the five key actions.

Speed is of the essence and while there are many examples of business leaders leading during a crisis and benefiting their brands, there are many others where a lack of leadership brought untold damage.

Then communicate to your stakeholders using a variety of different methods.

This is not to use the situation to develop a high profile.

Rather, it's about engaging with stakeholders and keeping them informed.

How do businesses cope when they simply have no idea how long a disruption is going to go on for?

Managing an issue can be very repetitive and it is important to evolve communications as the situation changes.

Daily or more regular team meetings, plus information sessions for stakeholders, and long hours are inevitable so it is important to set up a roster to keep those involved, fresh and thinking clearly.

What sorts of things should small businesses do to prepare for any unforeseen events if they can't afford PR?

Preparation is everything. We would always advise businesses to think about what to do if the worst happened and then write a plan - businesses without a crisis plan fare worse in a situation than those that have invested time planning.

There is at least a platform then on which to base actions, which should include communications advice. Talk to other small businesses about lessons learned and read on the subject.

Develop strong relationships with stakeholders so if a crisis does occur, there is a network of trust and support.


We want to solve your business problems. From tax headaches to recruitment nightmares - every week, with the help of specialists, we will answer your questions on any topic related to business. Send your questions to Gill at:

- NZ Herald

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