Whether its freight rates; chapter 11; piracy or a foundering in the coming year, we will see shipping companies in crisis.

The companies that do well in 2013 will have accepted the need for preparation in the event of a crisis. Not necessarily the one with which they might have to deal - that is the nature of an unexpected crisis - but, whether it be a 'non incident' type event such as a failure in corporate governance, a bank recalling its loans foreclosing or a key customer going into administration, the company is nevertheless prepared. The companies that will perform poorly may understand that a crisis can and will strike, but chose not prepare, hoping it will happen to someone else or they can muddle through.

It's all old news

We are now sharing news when a serious shipping incident can have a beginning, middle and end on social media. By that I mean that it doesn't feature in the regular main stream media, elbowed out by bigger national or international events or simply by journalists not understanding our business. However there is now a slew of well informed and authoritative websites and blogs dedicated to shipping activities and incidents which cannot be ignored if reputation is to be maintained.

Main stream or traditional media outlets are suffering a downturn both in revenue and circulations, and are stretched to the limit in resources. In the developed world news travels via mobile device to mobile device in seconds on the numerous social media platforms available. People even check news feeds whilst sat at traffic lights in their cars. Not to be encouraged!

Old fashioned companies stuck in the old ways of just delivering their version of events will miss out on the chance to talk directly to their stakeholders and key influencers (in other words, future clients) and that will seriously matter in an adverse event. If you want to have a business after such an event has wrecked your year, its best to plan now how you're going to talk to them.

It's also good to plan; monitor and engage across the range of platforms you and your customers will engage with.

It's only human

When you're in your office trying to think of which phone to answer amongst the cacophony of calls in the midst of an incident, it is easy to miss which of your back office staff; masters or crews or shoreside people are suffering.

We're all human and shipping companies that ignore the vital human element are making an error. Companies who don't care about people will fail when people begin not to care about them. Reputations will suffer if they ignore human suffering.

Foot in mouth disease

It is a truism that that the choicest quotes come from those not used to being under the unrelenting pressure of the media glare.

Those silly or throwaway phrases that come back to haunt for many years to come will tend to come from those who have had the least training. The stress of a crisis leads them to make silly mistakes that will overwhelm anything positive the company has done to mitigate the disaster. Perhaps you might remember "I want my life back" from an ex-CEO of a major oil company?

Don't let down your guard. If you don't want something disclosed, don't say it. Tweet not. Hands off the keyboard on the public facing Facebook page. Treat every phone as a microphone.

Drawing up the wagons

You can tell a company that has succumbed to 'downfall' or bunker mentality when they respond with the ridiculous "no comment" when asked about the unfolding event. Let's face it. "No comment" = "guilty" in the public's mind. Watch for the tsunami of ridicule via twitter to such a statement.

Unfortunately when such a comment is uttered, the media moves on and you've lost your chance to tell the real story.

Crisis response needs nerve and planning. Ensure you know how you will communicate your message in a crisis. Practice, practice, practice.

From Navigate Response, we wish you a happy, stress free, incident free, plain sailing, profitable 2013.

Make a New Year resolution to have a company-wide exercise at some horrendous time and test your response. Test it before a crisis tests you.

For more information on crisis handling and expert maritime advice in communications contact me at mark.clark@navigateresponse.com

Mark Clark

Director of Navigate Response