Melissa Piper NelsonMid-summer marks a busy season for many direct-marketing businesses, so discussing taking on even more heat may sound illogical – especially if the heat refers to crisis management.

The Institute for Public Relations (IPR) defines a crisis as the following: “A crisis is a significant threat to operations that can have negative consequences if not handled properly. “

Crisis management is often a part of developing an overall business plan, but as business leaders advise it is not a blueprint or step by step guide. Rather, it asks you what potential situations could cause your business serious harm and how you would begin to manage such situations.

A wide-scope crisis management plan (CMP) considers a number of threat scenarios from natural disasters to operational dysfunctions and outlines the management resources available to help you, or your crisis management team, work the problem.

As you begin developing a CMP, think about your own unique operation and the people/employees/volunteers and family members who make up your business team. How could they be deployed to assist during a time of crisis? Who could assume roles of responsibility in each phase of your operation? Is this something that could be handled internally, or by an external third party?

In any crisis situation, public safety comes first, followed by the necessary operational requirements. IPR notes, “Practitioner experience and academic research have combined to create a clear set of guidelines for how to respond once a crisis hits. The initial crisis response guidelines focus on three points: (1) be quick, (2) be accurate, and (3) be consistent.”

All of these functions will work best when there is a plan in place to follow. Employees need to know how to guide visitors, guests and customers to safety; which resources to alert; and who will respond to questions and concerns. So, three more points: (1) pre-plan, (2) build a response guideline, and (3) work the problem and the follow-up with intensity and integrity.

If a CMP is not already part of your business plan, take the time to structure guidelines to prepare both you and your team for difficult situations. During development, be honest about what you can handle and what outside assistance you might require. Many trade associations, cooperatives and business centers offer training in crisis management to assist small and direct marketing operations. And, talk to your fellow business people for advice and resource suggestions.

Review the CMP with your employees and family members so each individual working in your operation knows what to do, where to go and how to respond in a variety of challenging circumstances. Also, ask for their input on resources, industry spokespersons and other business contacts that may be able to offer help as well.

When the heat is on, it is best to be prepared for the worst and expect the best. As international business leader Steven Covey is reported as having said, “If you don’t take the time to prepare via leadership upfront, you will probably have to deal with it in crisis management down the road!”

The above information is presented for educational purposes and should not be substituted for professional or legal counseling.