Seed World

Crisis Communication Starts Before the Emergency

Gro Alliance

A third-generation seedsman, Jim Schweigert grew up in the family seed business and was exposed to industry issues at an early age. He earned a Bachelor of Arts in public relations from the University of Minnesota and worked for corporate public relations firms in Minneapolis, Chicago and Atlanta before joining the family business full time in 2003. He has since been active in the American Seed Trade Association, the Independent Professional Seed Association and earned his master’s in seed technology and business from Iowa State University. As president, Schweigert manages client contracts and crop planning, as well as business development and new market opportunities. His unique background and experience make him one of the seed industry’s leaders in innovation. As such, he was honored as Seed World’s 2009 Future Giant and currently serves as chair of the board of directors for Seed Programs International.

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The most annoying part of air travel, at least for me, is listening to the seemingly endless preflight announcements. How to buckle the seat belt, where the life vest is, how to follow the lights to the exit … Hasn’t everyone on this plane heard this a hundred times?

But, there is a lesson to be learned here. The chances of an in-flight emergency are infinitesimal. Yet on every flight, the exact same message about what to do during that unlikely emergency is covered in detail.  

This is how businesses should handle crisis communication. The reason is that when something goes unexpectedly wrong, cool heads from everyone involved are critical. The team needs to know exactly who should do what. Who talks to the employees, what’s the chain of command, where’s the safe place for employees to gather, who talks to the authorities, who fields any questions from the media, what’s the company social media policy on an emergency situation? 

Nobody wants to be working out these details while a building is on fire, an employee is seriously injured, or an accident has just occurred, because a quick response is key. Also, in today’s world, it’s likely there will be at least one cell phone camera recording it.

My recommendation is that some of the basics of crisis communication be worked into your company’s annual planning meetings and during seasonal meetings like pre-planting and pre-harvest. Events like fires, dangerous weather, severe employee injuries and accidents that involve an employee away from the facility aren’t likely, but they are certainly possible.

Talking about the response, clearly defining who does what and making sure that the communication is open, transparent and frequent will help keep as much order and calm during a crisis as possible.

While we are all going to be stuck listening to the safety speech on flights for the foreseeable future, we can take some solace in the fact that making sure everyone hears the same message and knows what to do  could actually save our life one day.