In today’s global business and 24/7 news environment, the potential for a crisis in the apple industry is real. With more stakeholders, regulators, ­critics, and potential plaintiffs, there are increasingly costly consequences for mistakes, and more need than ever to have plans ready to deal with the crises that inevitably arise.

Managing issues and potential crises at the national level is a priority for the U.S. Apple Association. We have worked to ensure we’re prepared on all fronts. But are you and your company ready for a crisis?

Build a crisis management team

The first step in preparing for a crisis is to build a crisis management team. Each business is unique, but, at a minimum, the team should include the chief executive officer, chief public relations officer, the senior manager from the division that might be involved in the crisis, and a corporate lawyer and/or other legal counsel. This team’s job is to develop an action plan and to decide who the spokesperson should be. Also, consider enlisting the help of a communications firm for guidance before, during, and after a crisis situation. Such counsel can provide an objective perspective.

Assess your vulnerability

The best time to think about your vulnerability is before a crisis occurs. Consider what unexpected or unintended issues might arise, and assess the likelihood of those things actually happening. Use this assessment to prepare for what might come your way. While it’s not possible to predict the future, it is possible to anticipate, prepare for, and monitor those potential issues.

Develop message points

Planning and preparation allow crisis teams to react faster and make more effective decisions. To better handle a crisis, develop an appropriate positioning strategy and message points for your areas of vulnerability. Three things to think about:

• Protect the integrity and reputation of your company. Don’t obfuscate with ­passive language.

• Tell it all, tell it fast and tell the truth. Don’t lie, deny or hide facts.

• Admit mistakes up front and begin doing whatever is possible to re-establish credibility and confidence with internal and external audiences.

Transparency is a key part of managing a crisis, even if it seems counterintuitive.

In developing message points, consider who your key audiences might be and the most effective way to communicate with them, including your board of directors, employees, customers, suppliers, government officials, regulators, consumers, and the news media. Consider how to best utilize Web sites, e-mail distribution lists, and other communication tools to reach those audiences. Assign responsibilities for those ­contacts, which should be maintained throughout the crisis.

Information brochures or fact sheets about the company or the area in which the crisis has occurred are useful for informing external audiences who are unfamiliar with your company. If the crisis was caused by a piece of equipment, consider bringing in a similar piece of equipment to show reporters. In some cases, it might be necessary to create materials that explain technical systems or in-house procedures. If you explain how a technical system or in-house procedure works and point out where a breakdown occurred, there is less chance of a reporter interpreting the situation erroneously. Develop as many of these materials ahead of time as possible and make them available electronically for easy access by the news media.

Identify spokesperson and other resources

A designated spokesperson should be trained by outside professionals as the primary spokesperson to make official statements and answer media questions. A back-up to the designated spokesperson should also be trained. In addition, designate individuals who will serve as technical experts or advisors. These individuals might include a food-safety or nutrition expert, a scientist, or member of the academic ­community to support your spokesperson with credible information.

USApple has identified food-safety experts, state and federal government officials, and contacts within allied industry organizations to call on in the event of a crisis. The association can provide its members with background information, information on technical/safety issues, assist with message development, and aid in reaching key media contacts.

It is USApple’s responsibility to serve as the voice of the industry, act as an information clearinghouse, and safeguard the image of apples and apple products from disparagement in the national media. In the event of a potential national crisis situation, we urge members of the apple industry to immediately contact your state executive or USApple. Together, we can work to ensure the future livelihood of the apple industry.