Communications firm offers tips for crisis situations

April 17, 2014 By    

Supply delivery disruptions. Propane plant fires. Delivery vehicle accidents.

These are just three of an infinite number of crisis situations that can unfold for propane retailers. And having a plan to combat these situations in the face of media scrutiny is instrumental to maintaining business as close to usual as possible, says Michael Meath, founder and president of communications firm Strategic Communications.

“Whenever the news media calls, I always say ‘I am not available,'” says Meath, who delivered a Fast-Track presentation called “Do’s & Don’ts of Incident Management” on the trade show floor of NPGA‘s Southeastern Convention & International Propane Expo. “You are absolutely going to take the call [eventually], but you’ll do it on your own time.”

Before fielding a call from a reporter, Meath says business owners or managers should take at least 10 minutes to formulate a response. Once a calculated response is developed, business leaders should gather their team to ensure all employees are on the same page and delivering the message with one voice.

“Say a bobtail driver slid off the road,” Meath says. “Because news reporters follow police scanners, they know before the manager knows. So you can develop holding statements.”

Holding statements should be restricted to situational facts, Meath adds.

“State that the bobtail did run off the road,” he says. “Also express empathy. Then express what’s next: ‘We’re working with safety officials to do what’s necessary.’

“In some situations, you might start with empathy, then move onto facts and state what’s next.”

Identifying a spokesperson is another decision business leaders must make. Although it might seem obvious for a business owner or a manager to be that spokesperson, Meath says business leaders aren’t always the best option.

“Sometimes your best spokesperson is not an owner, president or manager,” he says. “You have to be honest with yourself to understand that. [Business leaders] might not be the person you want to put in front of the news media.”

Also, whatever your message is to the media, Meath suggests writing it down.

“When done with an interview, give your message on a piece of paper,” he says. “This helps enforce the message you want delivered to a reporter.”

One opportunity that often emerges during the interview process is an open-ended reporter’s question that gives the spokesperson a chance to offer takeaways.

“Oftentimes, at the end of the interview, the reporter asks if there’s anything you want to add,” Meath says. “At that point, you can look over your message sheet and reinforce your message.”

Exiting your business

Two Beacon Exit Planning representatives, CEO Kevin Kennedy and COO Joseph Bazzano, discussed exit-planning strategies during an educational session titled “How to Exit Your Business Without Being Clobbered by Taxes.”

Kennedy says taxes business owners can see range from 0 to 60 percent, depending on the U.S. state and who’s buying the business. He also says the process can be a painful and exhausting one for owners.

“There’s a lot of fragmented advice you can get during this process because a lot of people are sharing input,” Kennedy says. “And those giving advice may not be talking with each other.”

Part of Kennedy’s advice to propane retailers is not to settle for one offer. Instead, shoot for five or six before making a decision.

Kennedy also raised several questions retailers should consider before selling.

“Do you know how much your business is worth? It needs to be valuated,” he says. “Do you know how much money you need for retirement to walk away from your business?”

Bazzano advises business owners to focus on three areas in particular during the exiting process: the business (valuation and succession), personal things (your legacy) and finances (the fear of outliving your money).

“Have a blueprint,” Bazzano says. “An exit plan should analyze and coordinate all resources and advisers toward the goal.”

Selling a business is also about timing, he says. The state of the economy is a contributing factor in the sales price owners ultimately get.

“If you want to get out in five years, is 2019 going to be the right time to sell?” Bazzano asks. “Or should you wait a little longer for a healthier economy?”

Also, upon exiting, consider that a number of a business owner’s expenses are paid through the business.

“That means there’s no tax,” Bazzano says. “After you sell the business, you must take into account that you’ll be paying taxes on certain things.”

Connecting with customers

Kirk Wright, a consultant who is president and founder of Pro Image Communications, offered a few suggestions to propane retailers on how to combat natural gas expansion during another educational session in Atlanta.

Offering price options, enhancing communication with customers and building alliances with HVAC companies were among the strategies on which Wright suggested retailers embark.

“Offer ceiling prices, fixed prices and market prices,” Wright says. “Don’t mandate to them. Communicate periodically through newsletters.”

He says drivers should never leave a customer’s property without leaving some kind of literature behind. Also important is for a company’s messaging to be consistent across all employees.

“This increases your credibility,” Wright says.

About the Author:

Kevin Yanik was a senior editor at LP Gas Magazine.

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