How you respond in a panic situation can make or break an organization. Decide who will be saying what to what audience and when. For example: if a scandal breaks involving your organization, who should be making a statement and how will it be transmitted? Will all those who need to hear it have access immediately? Fill out a variety of different scenarios. This is also where you can prepare how you will apologize if something is your fault.
Sometimes things go wrong without any chance of seeing it coming. In those situations, having a panic plan is the most valuable thing you could have. This is where you will detail who will speak on behalf of the organization and what they will say.
You should prepare for a variety of scales of panic. Very different responses are needed if your product malfunctions and some people are annoyed, as opposed to your product malfunctions and people are injured.
The first thing to select is who will represent the organization when something goes wrong. If it is only a minor issue, then having a communications coordinator, or designated spokesperson respond is reasonable. If it is likely the largest public issue you will have to address, you will want the president or CEO of the organization responding to the public. Make sure to mark down specific people within your panic plan for the various scales of panic.
Prepare an apology for when things go wrong and they’re your own fault, or you could have prevented them, but failed to do so. A good apology addresses the problem specifically, speaks directly to those affected, is sincere, and timely. This is not the time to deflect blame towards someone else, but to take responsibility for your actions or lack of action. Make sure you address your apologies to those who were affected and those connected to those who were affected. Whoever is delivering the message must be sincerely sorry for their actions and the consequences it has caused. Lack of sincerity will be noted by the public, and can make the situation even worse. Finally, you cannot wait until there is significant public pressure to apologize. Get ahead of the media and negative publicity. If you know something has gone wrong, address it as soon as possible. This turns a problem into an opportunity to do well for your audience.
You might want to consider telling some people in a semi-private manner first, before going fully public with apologies and explanations. It is good form to tell people who are affected or involved first, as they should hear from you before they hear it in the media.
The person selected to deliver the apology should also be someone of influence within your organization. Hearing an apology from an intern is not what people want. They expect that the chair of the board, president of the company, or Executive Director of the organization would respond in a negative situation. They will appreciate that someone that important took the time to notice and address their situation and their concerns.
Having your panic plan prepared will allow you to be calm and confident with your responses when something does go wrong.