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Controlling the Narrative: Crafting a Crisis-Communication Plan for Your Self-Storage Business

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If your self-storage operation is struck by a crisis, how you handle communication will impact the outcome and your business reputation. You need a plan for who to notify, who will handle certain tasks, what information to release and how to disseminate it.

As we’ve seen in 2020, unexpected events can occur in the blink of an eye. If a crisis hits your self-storage operation, are you equipped with a plan for communicating with staff, tenants, your community and the media? Having set public-relations (PR) guidelines will prepare you to deal with the predicament while protecting people and your business reputation.

Following is guidance for identifying a crisis and creating your communication plan. I’ll also talk about people to involve and notify, what to include in your messaging, and how to disperse information.

Is It a Crisis?

In a PR context, a crisis is anything that brings negative attention to your company. People often think of natural disasters, but in self-storage, a crisis might be triggered by a break-in, vandalism, an angry customer, a disgruntled employee, etc. Any time the community or media gets involved, you want to follow your crisis-communication plan and control the narrative.

Part of identifying a crisis is listening and monitoring. You have to be diligent and watch for potential risks, and that includes online. You want to be cautious but not alarmist. One negative review might affect your business, but it isn’t a catastrophe. If that one negative review multiplies and a pattern appears, then you may have a situation on your hands.

Creating Your Plan

The sooner you identify a crisis, the quicker and better you can deal with it. Following a plan won’t only save your team time, it’ll help you be proactive in saving your public image. Your brand reputation matters, particularly in the local area. You don’t want incomplete or inaccurate information to go viral, or it could have a negative impact. Instead, you want your dealings with the media and public to be positive. Having steps laid out in advance allows you to respond swiftly and minimize damage.

Your crisis-communication plan doesn’t need to address every potential situation; instead, create general guidelines that’ll help you handle any scenario. It must have a clear goal—to protect the company in the event of a disaster—and be included as part of your facility policies and procedures. It should also identify the who, what and how of the crisis response. More on that below.

It can be helpful to include at least a few examples of scenarios that can occur and checklists or templated messaging for each. You might even outline specific steps and information to help guide the response. For example, if your company gets blasted on social media by an angry customer, it would be useful to have the social media manager’s contact information and login details for the company’s social platforms.

Your communication plan should also address how to handle media and live interviews. Any inquiries should be directed to the official spokesperson. As an addendum, include an overview of your company’s general branding and messaging standards.

After devising the plan, it’s critical that everyone within the company reviews and understands it. Training and role-playing will help. Being comfortable with the strategy should help everyone remain calm when an event occurs, which means you can minimize the negative impact.

The Who

Decide who should be part of the crisis-communication team. It’s critical to determine who’ll handle which parts of the plan. For every step, someone needs to be responsible and trained on proper execution. For example, who will be your company spokesperson? This individual will be the key point of contact, engaging with the media and key stakeholders.

You’ll also need to identify those stakeholders. Who from the company needs to be made aware of the situation? They might include owners, employees, tenants, partners, investors, legal counsel and your insurance agent. These people should know what happened, the steps being taken to react, and what, if anything, should be conveyed by them.

The What

After a crisis is identified, you want to proactively deploy damage control in the form of clear messaging. It’s vital that the situation is addressed quickly and the response error-free. To draft this communication, you must be calm, objective and informed.

Don’t distribute anything until you’ve gathered and investigated all information. There’s nothing worse than making a statement with incorrect details. It’s important to know the entire story from an internal perspective, and how your customers may perceive the incident externally. The statement should address both perspectives, as well as your company’s official position on the crisis.

Any statement to the media must be carefully reviewed. It should be concise and factual but shouldn’t disclose anything that could be harmful to the company. In some cases, you may not be able to reveal too much. Your legal counsel may advise against it. If there’s an official investigation, local law enforcement may restrict you from revealing certain facts. That said, simply telling media “no comment” can hurt your brand reputation, as it might be assumed you have something to hide. If necessary, explain that you can’t comment due to an impending investigation, or that you’re working on the issue and awaiting further details.

The How

Once you’ve crafted your response, you need to push it out to all appropriate parties. This will include internal communication with company stakeholders, and external messaging for the public and media. There are lots of ways to distribute information:

  • Email
  • Phone (call or text)
  • Update on the website homepage
  • Blog post
  • Social media posts
  • Press releases
  • Press conference

These are all great options to broadcast and control the conversation around the crisis.

Monitor the Conversation

Once information about your self-storage crisis has been released, you must monitor the media channels. Any mention of the incident should be tracked, and an appropriate response issued.

Don’t forget about social media! Even if you don’t dispense information there, people will talk about the incident. Listen to the discussions happening around the incident. Be patient; it sometimes takes a few days for things to come around on the social media cycle.

Developing a crisis-communication plan allows you to protect your business reputation. The unexpected will occur, but having firm guidelines makes it easier to manage nearly any kind of calamity that could happen at a self-storage facility. Being unprepared will hurt your brand, so have a strategy to control the narrative!

Melissa Stiles is director of marketing for Storage Asset Management, a property-management and consulting company that specializes in self-storage. The company manages more than 200 properties along the East Coast. For more information, e-mail [email protected].

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