“Food tampering has put a spotlight on the entire industry and shows why everyone should have a well-documented crisis management plan,” Jeremy said. “But, it’s important to review the plan regularly – don’t wait for a crisis to read it.”
A crisis management plan provides vital information outlining the necessary steps to take when a crisis hits, including a list of major stakeholders and a communications plan.
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Jeremy drew examples from his recent involvement as a fact checker for the 2018 Commonwealth Games where he was on call to respond to any crisis that might occur. He explained the importance of separating the responsibility of fact checking from the responsibility of communicating and outlined several key points of a crisis management plan including: who to contact; what to say; when to say it; and who needs to be available.
Jeremy explained that it’s essential for industry organisations to ensure key management, the board, and key stakeholders have the confidence in the process prior to the crisis. If they don’t understand, or don’t have confidence in it, it is unlikely they will follow it during a crisis.
“Once you’ve called the crisis it’s your priority to sit down with the CEO and senior management as soon as possible,” Jeremy said.
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“You want the people in the room who can answer as many of the critical questions as they can, ensuring all parts of the business are covered.”
Rachel said a turning point in the strawberry tampering crisis was the broadcast of an interview with a grower which prompted a surge in consumer support for strawberry growers.
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Messaging is critical. The difference between ‘throw-out’ and ‘cut-up’ the strawberries had a profound impact on how the crisis unfolded. Industry was greatly concerned that this was the initial message that was delivered to the public without any consultation with them. In addition, the media discussed the event as a ‘contamination’, whereas the message of ‘food tampering’ was more accurate.
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“Make sure your stakeholders hear from you first, even if it is no more than highlighting what has occurred and that you are following it up. If you miss the boat by two or three hours, you’re in trouble,” Jeremy said.
“Keep your statements to a minimum to avoid ambiguity, don’t have any speculation or wiggle room, verify your facts, and double-check everything. Above all else, remain calm.”