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Risk Management – Crisis Communications Toolkit

Culinary Crisis Communications Are Key to Managing Risk

Unfortunately, a crisis can occur at anytime and can affect any culinary business at any step of the “Farm-to-Fork” food chain. It is for that reason that you should prepare for a crisis before it happens.  Effective culinary crisis communications are critical.

To help all culinary business prepare in the event of a crisis, we’ve developed this Toolkit to help guide you in your communications. This should not serve as a substitute for your insurance or legal council but rather should help you understand the components of a good crisis communications plan.

Culinary Crisis Communications Overview:

  1. Preparing for a Crisis
    1. Develop a crisis communications plan. The plan will help guide you through a crisis and help you stay on course during an emergency.
    2. Establish protocol. It’s important to identify a list of key personnel to contact in the event of a crisis. Keep phone numbers, pagers, etc. available for the primary contacts.
    3. Know the OCL Membership Services number. Calls to the hotline are confidential. The Hotline staff can help you by talking through your crisis and helping you to identify options. The Hotline is available  year-round at 360-440-7006
    4. Identify your target audience(s). During a crisis, it’s important to identify to whom you are speaking. Most often you are communicating with staffers, suppliers and customer. Remember the media serves as a gatekeeper to other external audiences.
  2. Identifying a Crisis
    1. It’s important to identify the crisis and understand its origins. Here are some questions you may want to ask yourself:
      • Did the crisis take place at your business?
      • Did the crisis take place outside of your business but involve your staff, customer(s), or suppliers?
      • Is the crisis immediate or ongoing?
      • Is the crisis one that will remain local or will it have national media appeal?
      • Does the crisis concern a media hot button issue—an allegation of child abuse, cyber crime, food borne illness? If so, is this an issue best handled by an OCL spokesperson?
  3. Handling a Crisis
    1. When a crisis occurs, it’s important to gather the facts immediately. In gathering the facts you should talk with your staff only.
    2. Remind your staff to follow these suggestions in handling their crisis. Tell them that they can find on line assistance at ______________________.
    3. If the crisis is at your business the business should designate one spokesperson to speak on behalf of the business. Ideally this is the director, owner, or other person of authority. It is best to identify only one spokesperson to ensure a consistency in message. However, the business may ask you to act as the spokesperson—if you feel comfortable to do this.
    4. Remind the staff that your help, the assistance of OCL’s office, and this online Communications Toolkit are not a substitute for the help and advise from their own attorney or PR counsel.
    5. If the crisis requires statements from you, control the flow of information. In other words, if the media calls, be courteous, take their information, and ask the deadline to return the call. You do not need to provide an immediate comment to the media but you should not ignore their requests either.
    6. Develop a written statement. You should work with your attorneys and/or your PR counsel to develop a written statement to share with parents and the media. The statement should include the facts only. Do not speculate and do not place blame.
    7. Develop key messages. This should be for your internal use only to help you in discussing the matter with customers and the media.
    8. Communicate the message and the facts. Provide the media with the written statement and be available for comment.  Remember to stick to the facts. Do not try to “hide” bad news as negative media coverage is likely to result and will continue beyond the immediate crisis itself.
    9. Keep track of all calls and requests. Keep a list of reporters with whom you spoke.
    10. Respond to the media. Remember the media helps to shape public opinion. A “no comment” statement is seen as an admittance of guilt. Be fair and respond quickly to the media.
    11. The media may ask to speak with other persons affected by the crisis. It is best to restrict access and to refer all questions to the primary spokesperson.
    12. Keep track of all media coverage. Review all the media coverage for accuracy. Call the reporter when the information is not accurate

In summary:

  • Designate a crisis communications protocol.
  • Manage the message and the media.
  • Understand and prioritize your audience.
  • Communicate early and often.
  • Do not lie.
  • Do not ignore the situation.