When companies find themselves in a crisis, how they respond and how soon they do so plays a large part in determining if the business survives.
Recognising that the Caribbean didn't have a crisis communications agency, Lisa-Ann Joseph saw an opportunity to carve out a niche for herself in public relations (PR).
Established on December 7, 2007, Reputation Management Caribbean Ltd (RMC) has grown from a one-person consultancy to a full-service agency providing services in PR/corporate communications, media training, events management and of course, crisis communications.
Coca-Cola Caribbean Bottlers, BHP Billiton, Samsung and the Unit Trust Corporation are among RMC's current clients while past clients included Bermudez Biscuit Company, Carib Brewery and the IDB.
Seated in RMC's new office at 38 Carlos Street, Woodbrook – the agency relocated from Alfredo Street in September – Joseph told Business Day about the importance of being level-headed during a crisis.
"It's important to be calm and focused on the issue. You also have to be able to be as unemotionally attached from a situation, not detached, in order to recover from the situation. That's very hard to do if you've never had any training in dealing with situations like that."
Ideally, your company should have a communication plan in place before a crisis hits because, as Joseph noted, "crises can and do happen."
"Therefore, you want to be proactive and have someone work with you to ensure you have things in place, a process in place, to guide you through the initial response while you and your crisis management team work on a specific response to that incident/issue/accident."
Joseph said while many companies have business continuity plans, "nine out of ten times, most of them do not have a communication plan."
Her advice is to ask yourself a number of questions (see below), the answers to which will inform you about the need for the services of a company like RMC.
Joseph said these questions "are all part of the pre-planning process. For medium and large companies in particular, you know that a crisis is inevitable, so you have to plan for it."
Her interest in crisis communications and reputation management developed during her time at Coca-Cola - the international company had an office in TT to handle the Caribbean market, where she headed the Public Affairs and Marketing Communications department and served as the company's spokesperson.
Joseph's exposure to this field was furthered when she left Coca Cola to work at BPTT, where she held the post of communications manager, responsible for the energy company's local and international media relations and employee engagement programmes. She also served as crisis communications advisor for BPTT.
"Working with these companies, my portfolio expanded into crisis communications because MNCs (multinational corporations) are prone to crises. What sets the successful ones apart from others is how they deal with a crisis, how they recover from it," Joseph noted.
Reflecting on her journey from PR manager to founder and managing director of RMC, Joseph said she always had a plan to start her own business.
"I wanted to build my portfolio within the corporate world by ensuring I had experience, knowledge and qualifications in various sectors. That ranged from NGOs and the financial sector to manufacturing and energy."
Joseph's vision of what her company would offer morphed during her time at Coca Cola and BPTT.
"I realised there was no local or regional agency providing crisis/reputation management services. This being something I had become interested in, I decided my company should focus on that aspect of PR."
Joseph was in for a surprise though, when she began letting people know about RMC.
"I had this whole notion of starting this discipline in TT, focusing on the importance of crisis communications with companies because MNCs had already seen the need for it. But I had to pull back and reassess things after I realised what I thought people wanted and what they actually did were two different things."
While people in 2007/2008 tended to tell Joseph they had no need for crisis communications/reputation management services, they were asking her for more traditional PR services such as press releases and event management.
"I said OK because I had bills to pay and decided to ease in this whole crisis communications area while beefing up the PR aspect of RMC. I needed to work with companies and understand where they were coming from, so I could use my background in strategic communications to help them further their business."
Joseph also had to prove herself since, as she puts it, "Trinidadians have to 'see how you move' because it's a relationship-building society, before they trust you with their business."
"So it was a lot of knocking on doors, doing press releases, speeches, communication plans, providing advice and counsel on something. You just have to keep at it until they say, we have this project coming up and we'd like you to work with us on it. That's how you get a foot in the door. That's what helped me along the way."
Ten years later, RMC's work has earned it international strategic alliances with two very reputable leaders in the PR business – Weber Shandwick International and Prism Communications Group.
For more information on RMC, visit its website http://www.rmcaribbean.com/
QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF:
How do you communicate during a crisis?
What happens if a crisis hits you?
Do you have a plan?
Do you have pre-approved initial statements ready and waiting so that when the crisis hits, you are ready to deal with the media who will be on your doorstep?
Have you been trained in interacting with the media during a crisis situation?
Are you calm, collected and clear in what you want to say during a crisis?
Is the message that you're giving to the media the same message that you're giving to, say, the family in hospital of your injured employee?