The current COVID-19 pandemic has emphasized the need for a crisis/issues management plan more than ever. Our industry has faced four key areas of disruption including funding challenges, regulatory and commercialization delays, manufacturing and supply chain disruptions and cancellation of medical, industry and investor on-site meetings. Given these disruptions caused by the pandemic, the need for companies of all stages to have a formalized communications/crisis plan has been brought to the forefront.
This article outlines the three key steps you need to take to develop a crisis/issues management response plan and describes the four trigger levels that health and science innovators need to consider. Rather than a blueprint for all scenarios, a crisis communications/issues management plan is a reference tool. Consider it a toolbox with tools to tackle the toughest and most dangerous issues your company faces. The plan serves as a response guidepost and gives your crisis team the structure to document, manage and survive the crisis or issue.
Critical to plan success are the following:
1) Monitoring sources of information in media and social media circles as well as other channels,
2) Setting up and managing the crisis management team and
3) Executing the plan through the core crisis team, extended team members, external and internal spokespersons as well as one Board sponsor.
Verify the Situation
Before you can determine your path forward, you need to verify the situation at hand and identify it as a crisis, incident, or issue. This requires you to gather the facts, judge validity based on the source of information, clarify plausibility through a subject matter expert and attempt to discern the potential impact of the event. You should also identify members of the Issues Management Team (IMT) and identify countries/regions and/or business units involved. When setting up an IMT to monitor and review issues, team members will need to qualify the level of risk that the issues represent and rate the risk according to the trigger level as outlined in your plan.
How to Determine the Trigger Level and Degree of Response
It is important to first understand how to recognize whether a potential issue or crisis is heading towards you. But, to respond appropriately, you need to be able to understand the differences in the Trigger Levels (1-4) because depending on the situation, your response plan may differ.
Trigger 1: Maximum Response
Trigger 1 represents a true crisis, an unexpected event that threatens the safety and health of consumers, customers, employees as well as the image and corporate reputation of your company. Trigger 1 crises require maximum level response in a timely manner. The COVID-19 pandemic is a true example of a crisis that our industry and nation has faced and was not well prepared for. Other Trigger 1 crisis examples in the health and science innovation fields include patient death, severe adverse reaction or medical error, a non-approval letter from a regulatory agency, medication supply shortage, and contamination. Because you will not have any time to spare when a crisis hits, prepare emergency statements in advance for your plan based on a few different crisis situations. Have brief statements available for various channels, including Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, internal/external email communications, website statement and a press release.
Trigger 2: Proactive Response
Incidents are unexpected events that can lead to a crisis if left unattended or not managed. Negative data, competitor claims, questions from KOLs and the medical community about the validity of data, negative or inaccurate media stories, pricing and adverse events all require a proactive response and represent a Trigger 2 proactive response covering timing, materials needed and channels for distribution of your message. Again, having placeholder statements ready as part of your plan that can be used in case the need arises are life savers.
Trigger 3/4: Moderate Response and Monitor
Issues can evolve into a crisis and therefore require monitoring or moderate responses. Negative editorials in major journals, a misquoted executive, congressional legislation that may impact your product and competitor supply issues are a few scenarios to consider listing in your plan. In this case identifying a few trigger level topics that may affect your company is important, as is having a situation brief and standby statement ready.
You Have a Plan and What’s Next
Having a solid crisis/issues management plan is mission critical today. And, even more important is having your team meet twice yearly to go through defined scenarios by trigger level to ensure that you are ready should an issue or disaster strike. The need for messaging and development of key channels through which to communicate your message, in particular, the importance of having social media channels and virtual manners for rapid response has become critically importany. The time is now to embrace digital communications whole-heartedly.
By Donna L. LaVoie, President & CEO, LaVoieHealthScience
For almost 20 years, Donna’s efforts combine building LaVoieHealthScience’s health and science consulting practice, while overseeing key account strategies, agency strategic direction, core competency and methodology development, growth strategies, and team development.