Friday, September 30, 2005

Communicating during a Crisis

How important is a crisis plan for your business? Just ask Wal-Mart. Pre-Katrina, news about the retail giant was limited to gender discrimination lawsuits, union protests and communities everywhere trying to bar Wal-Mart supercenters from their town. Post-Katrina, everyone wants the government to be more like Wal-Mart.

How did we get to the point where even Wal-Mart's many enemies are singing their praises? Clearly, the largest factor in the enhancement of their image is simply their performance under fire. Countless column inches have been devoted to their sophisticated disaster preparation, rapid response in the aftermath of the hurricane and their philanthropy. The cover of the latest issue of Fortune Magazine is emblazoned with:

GOVERNMENT BROKE DOWN. BUSINESS STEPPED UP. How Wal-Mart, FedEx, and Home Depot got the job done after Katrina.

But their performance is not the only factor in the improvement of Wal-Mart's image. In recent months, they have been stepping up their communications efforts to enhance their corporate image. They've started Wal-Mart Facts, a web site designed to communicate the good things about the company. The site includes details of their hurricane relief efforts as well as a blog. They have also brought a public realtions team from Edelman in-house to assist in their communications efforts. Even CEO Lee Scott is taking a more active role in defending his company's reputation.

Walmart All of this increased importance that Wal-Mart has placed on communications in the recent months has left it in a position to communicate its good deeds. They not only had a crisis plan, but also a crisis communications plan. Thanks to that planning, they're enjoying what's probably the best weeks of publicity they've had since Sam Walton was alive. Does your company have a crisis communications plan?

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