Speaker urges fruit and vegetable producers to be ready in case of a recall crisis
DENVER — In an industry almost held hostage by the unpredictability of Mother Nature, there is plenty producers can do in the case of a public relations crisis.
During the second day of the Colorado Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association annual conference, Diane Mulligan, president of M&C Communications, gave advice to producers regarding crisis management during times when a farm or agriculture company might be under the spotlight for a less-than-ideal situation.
What that situation looks like will be different for each company. It could be an E.coli breakout traced back to a particular farm or poor practices by a worker become public. There are a number of unpredictable things that could tarnish the reputation of a business, but having a plan in place before a crisis hits will help some of the “worst case scenarios” from happening when the public is paying more attention to a certain operation.
A GUT REACTION
If an operation thinks about a plan for crisis management before something happens, the more likely they’ll be ready when it strikes. Operations might not know what will happen, but if they have an outline in place and train the appropriate employees, it will save time when the media come knocking.
“If you train and think about preparation in a potential crisis, you’ll be more ready as soon as it strikes,” Mulligan said Feb. 20.
This includes designating at least two people to be in charge of only the media. She said at least two because there’s no way to know when a crisis will happen. If only one person is trained and ready, and they happen to be on vacation or are unavailable when crisis strikes, that’s not beneficial.
The way companies deal with crisis, even in non-agriculture industries, can be a tool for preparation. In food production, there are instances of food-borne illnesses, and the way the industry is impacted after the fact is a good tale of whether or not their crisis management strategy worked.
The bottom line, though, was just to make a plan, especially in regards to the media.
MEDIA RELATIONS ARE IMPORTANT
Especially when it comes to communication with television, it’s important to know what you’re going to say to the media soon after you’ve formulated your thoughts.
Especially when reporters are on a deadline, if an organization isn’t communicating they will have to report based on information they have, which can be problematic.
One way to get ahead of that is to have a timeline of press briefings. Depending on the severity, they can be either every 30 minutes or every few hours; this is especially important when the spokesperson doesn’t have an answer to a question. Rather than trying to come up with an answer, the spokesperson can say they’ll check on it and have an answer at the next briefing.
Another key tool is social media. Mulligan suggested having one person focusing only on social media. She said she tries to have answers to everyone who might be posting on a post from the company. If others answer a rumor or question, she’ll leave it. But sometimes, even something as simple as typing, “thanks for your feedback,” can be enough.
Plus with people on social media, there might be questions or assumptions people are making that will be useful for the person talking with the media to know.
That gives the spokesperson an upper hand when it comes to communicating information. They can be better prepared for questions that might come along because someone posted it online first.
“You want to have facts ready to go so (the media) can base information on what is said, not speculation,” Mulligan said. ❖