Predicting the Unpredictable: How to Establish an Effective Crisis Communications Strategy
No biotech company is immune to bad news – crisis situations are inevitable hurdles, especially for life science companies due to the unpredictable nature of the industry. But don’t panic, a crisis doesn’t have to define you.
How you react and communicate in the wake of a crisis can make or break your company, especially if you are operating in a more saturated therapeutic space. An effective crisis communications plan focuses on three key steps: preparation, response and follow-up.
Don’t be fooled by the common mindset that you need to tackle today’s needs before thinking about future problems. Here are a few steps to ensure that your company is prepared to tackle whatever crisis comes your way:
- Preparation: First, identify who will be communicating with the public on behalf of the company in the event of a crisis. From there, start to brainstorm the potential crises that may arise in the short- and long-term horizons. These could include negative trial results, serious adverse events/clinical holds, layoffs, the departure of a C-Suite member, data breaches, etc. Prepare a response plan and communications cascade for each potential crisis, identifying the possible best, worst and neutral scenarios. Designate the response team for each situation ahead of time. For example, in the case of a data breach your response team may be the CEO, CFO, IT lead and comms lead. If the crisis is related to a clinical trial, your response team may be your CEO, CSO, regulatory head and comms lead. You will want to routinely reinforce standard practices with employees and the Board regarding social media engagement and responding to inquiries from third parties (media, investors, patients, etc.).
- Response: In the event of a crisis, take quick steps to control the situation by being the first to respond and set the stage with your company’s messaging. It is important to be overly transparent in your messaging because when a crisis strikes, your company will be under a microscope and the news will get out one way or another. Put yourself in your audience’s shoes – what would you want to know? You should consider reaching out to your key stakeholders (investors, analysts, patient advocacy groups, investigators, business partners, etc.) in a timely fashion with a personal message when appropriate.
- Follow-up: In the wake of a crisis, continue to reinforce your previously stated messaging – consistency is key. If you have publicly committed to making a change, stick to it. Even if you think that the dust has settled and the crisis is behind you, your actions in the wake of bad news will shape the public’s perception and credibility of your company. You will want to ensure that the concerns of your key stakeholders are addressed in order to maintain existing relationships and build future ones. Lastly, with a crisis behind you, it’s always a good idea to revisit your crisis communications plans to determine what worked and what needs to be adjusted so that you may be better prepared in the future.
Pulling together an effective crisis communications plan can feel overwhelming, but we’re here to help. Reach out to the MacDougall team here to learn more.