Today’s medical and recreational cannabis businesses face an unprecedented scrutiny from government regulators, the media and weary consumers. As a quickly emerging industry with every company trying to build a brand and stand out in a crowded field, operating day-to-day in a crisis preparedness culture is more important now than ever.
Companies can spend years building a reputation and watch it deteriorate in minutes when the internal crisis alarm goes off. One tweet from an angry consumer can quickly escalate to a story on the nightly news and significantly damage a brands reputation. When something goes wrong with a business in the cannabis industry, it gets attention. When a product is contaminated or people get sick, when there’s an edible recall, when there are public safety concerns because child proof packaging wasn’t secure or when there is theft and illegal product ends up missing, the message spreads and the public and media listen. Being prepared and understanding your company’s vulnerabilities are the first step to helping mitigate that damage.
What does operating in a business crisis preparedness culture in the cannabis industry mean? Let’s take a look at four steps growers, producers and product manufactures can take to instill a crisis preparedness culture in their day-to-day operations.
1) Anticipate the Crisis
Conducting regular risk assessments and vulnerability audits can help any organization learn where they are most at risk for a crisis occurring. In some cases, conducting this exercise can help prevent the crisis from occurring and in other cases it can help begin to craft a response for when/if it happens. Most issues that turn in to crisis are known in advance. A cannabis business should look at every aspect of their growing and manufacturing process from seed-to-sale to determine where their greatest exposure is.
2) Identify your Crisis Response Team
Select a group of senior-level executives that you want sitting around the table making the critical decisions to navigate your way out of the situation you’re in. This Crisis Response Team should consist of a leader, typically the CEO, and members representing different areas of the organization such as public relations/marketing, production, legal and security.
When legal is involved, it is important to distinguish the difference between a legal response and a public-facing response, as they are often points of conflict and different. There can be different people on the overall team that get selected based on the issue and the response that will be needed.
3) Identify and train spokespeople
It is important to have a singular, approved and designated voice for any crisis. This person needs to have the appropriate skills, a title that comes with authority and the proper training to know how to handle media interviews. They must be comfortable on camera, be able to articulate a pre-determined message and handle the potential for an intense line of questioning. They should be professionally trained in media before being designated as the spokesperson.
4) Crisis Simulations
Having your Crisis Response Team run through mock situations to test your organizations protocols is an important exercise to familiarize your team with the different steps of effective crisis management. The team should test their skills of time efficient information gathering, message development and spokesperson activation. This should be done on a regular basis simulating the different issues that were identified during your initial risk assessment. Spokesperson mock interviews should be recorded and reviewed to assess where there is room for improvement in real crisis situations.
What happens when that first tweet goes out? When that first reporter calls? When the TV cameras show up rolling at your doorstep? With the cannabis industry projected as a $40 billion+ industry in the next five years, it’s time for every cannabis business owner to take proactive steps to protect what they’ve built. Being prepared is the best insurance you can have for adverse situations.