Magazine article Journal of Property Management

Crisis Communications: Protect Your Company's Reputation in Its Darkest Hour

Magazine article Journal of Property Management

Crisis Communications: Protect Your Company's Reputation in Its Darkest Hour

Article excerpt

CRISES OF ALL KINDS--WHETHER SHOOTINGS, HURRICANES OR PANDEMIC OUTBREAKS-ARE INEVITABLE IN PLACES WHERE PEOPLE LIVE, WORK AND SHOP.

And while real estate managers may not be able to affect the outcome of a disaster, they do have the opportunity to take control of communications regarding the event--potentially minimizing damage to an owner's or manager's reputation.

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"On the crisis side of things, we are limited in what we can do," said Beau Beery, CPM, and vice president of commercial real estate for AMJ Inc., in Gainesville, Fla. "We're not the bomb squad; we don't deal with rogue shooters. The communications piece is what we can handle."

Being unresponsive will likely damage a company's reputation, and could possibly ruin the business as a whole, said David Chamberlin, senior vice president and director of issues" and crisis management in North America for MSL Group in New York.

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"In any crisis, there are a number of stakeholders--tenants, vendors and regulators. Making sure everybody has all the information they need is incredibly important," Chamberlin said.

"Your reputation is at stake, your money is at stake and your very business could be at stake if you don't handle crises well."

PLAN AHEAD

Companies should develop a plan that establishes an emergency communication infrastructure, Chamberlin said.

"Success in a crisis is proportionate to the amount of preparation you put in," he said. "The companies that aren't prepared end up struggling greatly."

A crisis communication plan should identify who makes up the crisis communication team; who is responsible for what; who may speak to the press and under what circumstances; a strategy for handling the press; and the potential disastrous scenarios that could affect a property, along with possible written or verbal responses to those scenarios, Chamberlin continued.

Most of those very elements have been addressed in the emergency communication plan established by Indianapolis-based Buckingham Company LLC, AMO, said Christina Felts, the company's director of marketing and public relations. All employees--from the CEO to the staff at individual properties--are given specific instructions for how to handle a variety of emergency situations.

"Due to the number of properties our company owns and manages, their geographic distribution, and differences in time zones, having uniform plans and processes for managing crises is absolutely critical," Felts said.

Alliance Residential, AMO, actually has a team in place that tackles disaster planning, including crisis communications, according to Brad Cribbins, a Phoenix-based senior vice president for the company. The PANIC (Prepare and Not Incur Chaos) team clearly defines the response duties of individuals and departments within the organization in the event of a disaster.

The company has also generated a list of possible disaster scenarios and responses, as well as developed and disseminated materials to staff and residents about how to handle particular scenarios, like pandemic flu, before an event even occurs.

"It's hard to find the time to plan, but it often pays off in spades when you're dealing with employees and clients in situations you never thought would happen," Cribbins said.

Having plans and processes in place is often dictated by a property's owner, said Vern Walters, CPM, vice president and director of field property management for Zimmer Real Estate Services, AMO, in Kansas City, Mo.

Even if owners haven't established emergency response strategies, real estate managers should understand their clients' expectations when it comes to crisis communications and inquire about the steps that should be taken when something goes wrong.

"If you do something on the fly, you are vulnerable to making mistakes," Walters said. …

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