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A Cobbler’s Guide to Weatherproof Shoes

There’s an old expression that cobblers wear the worst shoes. It’s meant to remind us to attend to our own needs even as we focus our attention on the needs of others.

We would do well to take that idea to heart, especially when working with our tourism and hospitality clients who have experienced significant events that require crisis communications.

No matter how well prepared we are for a crisis, there is always room to do better next time. In the best scenarios, tweaks will be made to the crisis plan in the days after, with normal life resuming right away. Even in the most unfortunate cases, humans are quick to forget the stress and chaos caused by the major event, and the crisis plan goes by the wayside. Hurricane Ian, Florida’s deadliest hurricane and one of the strongest to ever hit the United States, will likely be no exception.

As tourism and hospitality marketing experts with strong ties to Florida, we have learned a thing or two about getting our clients in shape for crises, including natural disasters. Even so, we work hard at following our own advice so that we don’t become the cobbler wearing the worst shoes.

With the impact of Hurricane Ian still fresh in our minds, we wanted to share our expert tips on how to keep your shoes in decent form, in any season. Here are a few tips:

1. Be friends with your crisis team and the IT experts

You don’t always get to choose your teammates, but once you find yourselves on a team, you need to get to know them quickly. Learn the names of their kids, significant others and pets. Check out their social media and learn what makes them tick so you can avoid becoming one of their pet peeves. You may spend a lot of time texting and calling in a crisis – start now with the message tree and get everyone’s cell number. When the server is down, you’ll still be able to keep planning team communication. Good crisis prep also calls for an IT plan. Establish your liaison and know far in advance if they are available 24/7. Incorporate that information into the crisis master plan. Invite the IT and tech gurus to meet the crisis team when times are smooth and to get to know one another. And communicate this information with the team – main points of contact may be impacted by the crisis, so creating redundancy in process and communication is critical.

2. Keep in touch with your clients and show empathy and compassion for all

Crisis management is a balancing act of resourcefulness and self-restraint. Establish early on crisis points of contact for the agency and the client. Know which crisis team members communicate with each client and identify the crisis team members who communicate with the agency account lead. Leaders should not be causing more chaos unintentionally by reaching our or offering services. It’s best to identify a main point of contact and have all communication funnel through that source. Be mindful not to overwhelm clients with your desire to call your key stakeholders, especially those directly impacted by a disaster. If you haven’t already established the pecking order of outreach, do so. Follow it one step at a time, and then report back. As Amit Ray writes in Nonviolence: The Transforming Power, “In every crisis, doubt or confusion, take the higher path – the path of compassion, courage, understanding and love.”

3. Be flexible during “crisis normal” – and ask your team to follow

A crisis sometimes turns schedules upside-down and inside-out. It’s important to focus inward first, outward second. Coach your key team leaders to operate under “crisis normal,” focused first on the safety of the team and their families. That means that not everyone will put in a full-day’s work throughout this time – personal time comes first in this instance. Since everyone on the team will be impacted differently, depending on the nature of the crisis, the team will need to be ready to respond accordingly. Encourage your team to be flexible. Those impacted significantly, for example, may need to focus internally on family and personal matters, while others who are less impacted can step in to support. Your PR, social media and corporate staff, for instance, should expect to be working long hours drafting crisis messaging. In a remote or hybrid environment, you may be lucky enough to have teams working in different time zones or locations, some or many without any direct impact. Inspire team members in areas not impacted to support their colleagues in impacted areas. Everyone wins when business keeps going.

4. Return to normal, but remember to prepare for “crisis normal”

Congratulations, you’ve made it through the worst, hopefully with as little damage as possible. As you return to normal, remember that some team members may need more time than others to do so. Reflect on the lessons you learned during the latest significant event and incorporate them into your crisis plan. Always have a “crisis normal” plan in place complete with staff and crisis team cell numbers, tech guru contacts, and the who’s who stakeholder relationships (and the who-calls-whom). Find the time to rehearse your crisis plan.

If you follow these steps, like the cobbler of old, you’ll know your own shoes are in as good a shape as your clients’ when the weather turns messy.