Crisis Communications Planning in a BtoB World

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Crises occur every day. In the past month alone we’ve seen two major public incidents. In the consumer realm, a quick-service food franchise severely underestimated the response from its high-profile, celebrity consumer promotion, resulting in significant customer backlash. And the BtoB world was not immune either, as a national Internet service provider experienced a major system outage, leaving business customers without e-mail or access to web hosting accounts for the better part of a full business day.  

Typically, crisis planning is associated with consumer brands due to their larger audience. For example, if a manufacturer has to implement a product recall, the company needs to communicate that message and try to retrieve the product from potentially millions of individual consumers.  

Crises in the BtoB world

In the BtoB world, the universe of customers is often significantly smaller, frequently reducing the efforts put into crisis planning. In fact, a recent BtoB magazine survey found 57 percent of marketing executives report their company does not have a crisis response plan currently in place. 

We believe BtoB communications professionals should increase their crisis planning efforts and have a protocol in place in the event of an incident. Though the customer impact for a BtoB company may not number in the millions, the trickle-down effect to your customers and your customer’s customers can quickly spread and severely affect your bottom line. 

Types of BtoB crises

The product or service, the industry served and the number of customers will often dictate the types of crises a BtoB company may encounter. Though this does not serve as an exhaustive list of potential crises a BtoB company might face, it includes those one should consider when building a crisis communications plan. 

  • Data breach or data loss
  • Executive malfeasance
  • Financial mismanagement
  • Major service outage
  • Product recall or repair
  • Severe illness or death of an executive
  • Workplace event – e.g. violence or harassment

Do you know how your organization, and you specifically, would react in the event of one of these incidents?  

What is the message to your customer and your customer’s customer?  

Do you know who is “in the room” when determining how to respond when one of these incidents occurs?  

If you don’t know the answers to these questions, as a communications professional, it is worth considering how detrimental each of these incidents would be to the sustainability of your company and put a crisis plan in place to address each. 

The worst mistake you can make is to wait until a crisis has occurred to start planning. At a minimum, having even a crisis framework in place prior to an incident will drastically improve your company’s ability to weather the storm. 

Key crisis planning components

Whatever level of engagement, your crisis communications plan needs to include five key components: 

  • Documented roles and protocols: including role and responsibilities for crisis team members, communications protocols, and key audiences
  • Operational materials: such as media lists, key corporate messages and sample call center scripts
  • Continuous improvement protocols: includes processes for regularly scheduled updates to the plan (at least twice a year) as well as the steps to take following a crisis to ensure your plan is up-to-date with any relevant changes
  •  Immediate response materials: including pre-approved messages and materials addressing the most likely crises your company could face
  • Supplemental materials: such as contact information for all crisis team members, and corporate and product fact sheets 

It is very easy to put off crisis planning as many believe a crisis will not happen to their company. A crisis can set a company back for years and leave a lasting, negative impression on the brand. A little advance planning can go a long way to keeping your company on solid footing.

Brian Boudreaux is a consultant at Arketi Group, a high-tech business-to-business PR and marketing firm. He is a member of the Technology Special Interest Group in the Georgia Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America.

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