EVEN SMALL COMPANIES CAN
Crisis Planning for Small
By David Brimm
PDF of this article
The thinking goes
that big companies face the most daunting crises, based on
sheer size, number of employees and scope of operations. Yet
a small business may face even bigger problems since its
revenue and profit margins usually are based on a much
smaller operation and often precarious financial situation.
As a result, even a small problem can derail the most
successful small business.
Small companies face the
same types of crises as large companies: physical damage to
the company (flooding, fires, etc.), loss of a large
account, quality issues (customer complaints, governmental
intervention, recalls, etc.), employee injury or death,
corporate malfeasance, and negative media attention. Usually
what these have in common, are that they were unexpected and
have the potential to impact the success of a company. This
truly defines a crisis.
Depending on the crisis, it
is important to create a plan to address the emergency. As a
sole owner with a small staff, you will want to be the point
person to demonstrate your personal involvement and concern.
You probably also will reach out to financial and legal
experts for advice. Outside public relations counsel will be
critical, if the emergency impacts the community and becomes
newsworthy. Whatever the path you take, it is important that
you speak as one voice so your constituents don’t receive
confusing or inconsistent information.
Communications Is The key
In a crisis,
the first thing to understand is that you have internal and
external constituencies. The most important of these is your
employees. In a small company, the rumor mill works very
quickly. Bad news will likely immediately impact
productivity and morale. It is critical that you meet with
every employee as a group so they get the same information
at the same time. This accomplishes two goals:
stops the rumor mill
2) It creates an atmosphere of
trust, so that employees are less likely to spread
disinformation about the company and its management
You do not have to share all the information, but on the
other hand, you should not hide important facts or sugar
coat it. Be straight and employees will appreciate it.
Keep them apprised of the crisis as it unfolds, and at
the end, bring closure by summing up the crisis and its
Your future is
tied to those of your customers and vendors. Consequently,
any perceived business setbacks will be of great interest.
Reassure these stakeholders with information about the
crisis, its possible duration, and what, if any, impact this
might have on the business relationship. Keep them apprised
as conditions unfold.
c) local/federal government
Not every crisis requires intervention, but in
cases of on-the-job injury, OSHA and local emergency and law
enforcement will be involved. Customer complaints may bring
in the FTC or local officials. Recalls will be handled by
public health, FTC, FDA or other bodies. Work with them so
that they can tell your constituents that you are working to
solve the problem.
• If a crisis impacts
the community, local news reporters may want to cover the
story. It is important that at this point, a single manager
is the spokesperson for the company. If the head of the
company is uncomfortable talking to reporters, another
senior manager is fine. He or she should be equipped with
three talking points (i.e. what happened, what is being
done, how long might the situation last).
• Make sure
that you have the contact information for key personnel
(finance, HR, etc.). That means cell phone numbers, pagers,
home phones, even vacation homes so that they can be reached
in an emergency. Keep those numbers handy.
• If you are
concerned about public relations strategies, bring in an
outside PR consultant to take you through the crisis. He or
she can bring in an outside perspective and formulate a game
• In the event of death or injury, management must
quickly reach out to the family with concern and compassion.
• Instruct your employees that only a single company
spokesperson is allowed to talk with reporters and all calls
must be forwarded to that person. Do not let your
receptionist talk to reporters. Never say “no comment.” In a
void, reporters will fill in the unknowns with their own
The key to addressing a
crisis is to approach it with calm and forethought. Think
about your options and take the time to formulate a plan.
Don’t jump into the fray until you’ve thought the response
At some time in every business’s future, a
crisis will emerge. Address it with confidence by creating a
crisis plan that outlines potential emergencies that could
impact business. It may not cover every contingency, but it
will be a good starting point.
David Brimm is
president of BrimmComm, a full-serve public relations agency
based in the Chicago area. He has 25 years of experience in
the corporate, agency and association sectors, with a
specialization in corporate counseling, strategic planning
and crisis communication for large and small companies. His
current clients represent health care; financial services;
technology; construction/building; publishing; and food.
Contact him at 847-444-1198 or visit his website at
When Community Hospitals Ail,
An Infusion of Marketing Speeds Recovery
by David Brimm, BrimmComm, Inc.
PDF of this article
Writing in Vital Signs, a publication produced by the
Massachusetts Medical emergency room visit to a community
hospital: Society On Line, Charles A. Welch, M.D. noted the
following in reference to an emergency room visit to a
“It was everything one could hope for in a community
hospital: friendly, competent, expedient, convenient and
user-friendly. The experience was an important reminder of
what treasures we have in our community hospitals. These
hospitals, the products of generations of public stewardship
and generosity, are the indispensable foundation of our
health care system. They embody the familiar dictum: the
right care at the right time in the right setting -- and
they do it with compassion and competence.
Unfortunately, the existence of these hospitals is
threatened as never before. They labor under inadequate
reimbursement, the rising costs of delivering care,
burdensome overhead expenses, a severe shortage of nurses
and physicians, and a growing number of patients who are
neither insured nor in the free care pool. Many of these
hospitals are chronically on the brink of financial failure
through no fault of their own, but they continue to deliver
the best care possible.”
The Best Kept Secret
In just two paragraphs, Dr. Welch does a pretty good job
summing up the state of community hospitals in the U.S. In
particular, his assessment that community hospitals deliver
“the best care possible.” What is missing from his
assessment is that in general, community hospitals don’t
always do a particularly good job reminding patients, staff,
other physicians, insurers and community leaders about the
important role they play in healthcare. The missing
dimension is the need for community hospitals to do a better
job defining their image and reinforcing all that they bring
to the health and vitality of the community. In short: the
under-utilization of marketing to help shape a community
hospital’s reputation, and ultimately, their financial
We have been working with Paris Community Hospital, a 29-bed
community hospital in Paris, Illinois on an ambitious
identity program to better define their image in the
community. It also addresses concerns that the local patient
base, and even staff and physicians in the area, are not
aware of the complete array of services that the hospital
provides. Working with the hospital’s internal marketing
manager, BrimmComm, has helped direct a comprehensive
marketing and PR support program.
The first step was to retire the hospital’s dated logo and
image materials, which didn’t convey the modern image of the
hospital or reflect its range of patient services. This logo
quickly captured the spirit of a revitalized community
hospital and became an integral part of the marketing
Leveraging The Internet
Another major initiative was to update the hospital’s web
site. With increasing regularity, consumers rely on the
Internet for health care information. An interactive,
inviting web site is often the first perception a patient or
physician has of a medical facility.
Washington State University recently reported that libraries
in seven community hospitals in the Northwest have recently
connected to the Internet as part of a project carried out
by the Regional Medical Library at the University of
Washington. The project is called "From Bench to Bedside:
Research and Testing of Internet Resources and Connections
in Community Hospital Libraries."
"There are many unknowns relating to the implementation of
networked resources and services in community hospitals,"
says Neil Rambo, Associate Director of the National Network
of Libraries of Medicine, Pacific Northwest Region. "
Through this project we are exploring optimal technical,
financial, and user models for extending access. We hope
this project will be the first phase of an on-going effort
to extend network access throughout the region."
Recognizing the importance of the web site, Paris Community
Hospital’s site now has become a vital source of healthcare
information with by-lined features by on-staff physicians,
it allows patients to sign up for medical tests on line,
provides updated outpatient services and special health
events, and is used to post job openings and allow for
on-line applications. In just a few months, the visits to
the hospital web site have doubled, and the duration of each
visit is lengthening, reflecting the vitality of the site.
Becoming The Community Health Care Information Source
One of the key strategies employed for Paris Community
Hospital, and adopted by others, is to transform the
hospital from strictly a site to go to when you’re sick or
require a test, to a community resource that partners with
the community to educate them about ways to stay healthy. It
starts with health fairs and other patient outreach
programs, but should also be combined with aggressive
marketing tactics, including advertising and public
Working with BrimmComm, Paris Community Hospital
re-evaluated its advertising strategy, moving from small,
periodic ads in the local newspaper promoting an event or
physician, to an impactful full-page monthly color insert
entitled “Staying Healthy.” With a bold design that employed
the new logo, Staying Healthy emphasized a major theme
(cancer awareness, diabetes, etc.) that was complemented by
physician by-lines that helped give visibility to the
medical staff while also reinforcing certain expertise in
treatment and diagnostics. This was supported by a calendar
of events and short items relating to preventive care. To
give the insert greater distribution, it was posted on the
The hospital’s public relations program was also evaluated.
Short news items were replaced with more in-depth
educational features that tied back to the hospital’s
services and educated readers about preventive health.
Releases also showcased new equipment and physicians.
An Investment In Future Growth
Chances are that most community hospitals have set aside
limited resources for marketing because marketing is not
perceived as an investment that impacts the bottom line.
This assessment would be wrong, if one considers the direct
and indirect revenue generated by marketing such as building
outpatient revenue through greater recruitment of patients,
more referrals from local physicians unaware of the full
range of the hospital’s services, and increasing enrollment
in hospital-sponsored fee-based educational programs for
smoking cessation and weight control. Also factored in
should be the benefits attained by helping physician
recruitment and staff morale.
If a hospital does not have in-house marketing capabilities,
it can be cost effective to bring in an outside marketing
firm that can in essence become the hospital’s marketing
department. Tapping into their unique skills, they can
manage the entire program, freeing up time for supervisory
personnel who can oversee the activities. If an in-house
marketing function exists, an outside firm can work with
on-staff marketing/development personnel to upgrade skills
and add new dimensions to the range of marketing
Progressive community hospitals today need to create a niche
for themselves and seek ways to become a more vital part of
the community health network. Marketing is a key to helping
community hospitals identify new revenue streams and to
compete in an the ever-challenging healthcare landscape.