Industry Voices

Always prepare for the worst

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Ruth Kinzey, MA, is a reputation strategist with more than 35 years of communications experience. Ruth is a professional speaker, consultant, author, trainer, and adjunct faculty member of Rutgers University. She is founder and president of The Kinzey Company, an organization dedicated to helping clients proactively and strategically enhance and protect their reputations.

Twenty people are hospitalized in critical condition, necessitating a private label food recall. A lone gunman enters a grocery store, shooting his estranged wife. A special interest group post, which alleges misconduct by a senior officer, goes viral. A data security breach compromises the credit card information of hundreds of customers. A former employee levels accusations of unfair labor practices, filing a lawsuit and appearing on television.

Crises: It’s not a matter of “if” but “when” they will occur. Yet, it’s common to focus on the daily demands of the workplace and to procrastinate on crisis preparedness. Given that crises take a toll on stakeholder relationships, financial success and reputations, what can you do to help minimize the negative impact?

1. Be honest about your vulnerabilities as well as your potential risks as a retailer. Take steps to eliminate, mitigate or prepare for them. And, “connect the dots” between the actual event and the implications that could materialize in related areas. For example, a violent act — such as a shooting — at your store will result in extensive media coverage, employee reaction, customer concern and maybe even government inquiries. Do your employees know what to say? Are they prepared to be brand ambassadors at this difficult time because you are tending to their needs as well as providing relevant information, maybe even talking points?

2. Analyze your company’s reputation and determine how you can enhance it. If goodwill and trust toward your supermarket already exist when a crisis occurs, you will have more credibility when you tell your side of the story, collaborate on solutions, and promise to get to the root cause. Be sure your company has positive images representing multiple facets of your retail business, including customer service and corporate citizenship. A consistently positive reputation will contribute to the believability of the information you release.


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3. Design a comprehensive crisis plan. While you can’t account for everything, a strong infrastructure will enable you to better manage even an unanticipated crisis. A cross-functional team should create this document to ensure multiple perspectives and to better address the breadth of your vulnerability. When designing this plan, never say “never”; but since you can’t fully prepare for every single issue, prioritize your planning efforts. Finally, make sure the document covers all key areas, such as retail operations, human resources, government relations, investor relations, communications and marketing.

4. Share, inspect routinely, and practice your crisis plan. If you are on vacation and a crisis occurs, does your designate know what to do and when? What to say and when? It’s important to have up-to-date copies in the hands of all of those who could potentially manage the crisis.

Today’s insurance companies recognize the incredible value of a positive company reputation and the cost of a negative one, so it’s not surprising these businesses believe it’s worthwhile to prepare for the inevitable crisis. The real question is: How important do you think it is?

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Warren Stoll

Warren Stoll is marketing and business development director at Kontos Foods, a manufacturer and distributor of traditional Greek and Mediterranean foods in Paterson, N.J. Contact at WarrenS@kontos....
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