When tragedy strikes our communities, we look to expert first responders to rush to our aid: without well-equipped and trained police, firefighters and EMTs, we’d be in harm’s way when we need support at our side.

Unfortunately, most senior planners don’t think about the need for crisis planning within their agency, but the compelling issues involving seniors — and the potential that a nasty headline or two could destroy your reputation — speaks volumes to this analogy. Thinking about a crisis before one strikes your practice is smart practice management.

If you believe crises only happen to others, wake up. The best crisis is one prevented. How would you (and the companies that trust you to sell and distribute their products) respond if one of your advisors was charged by the Attorney General for complicity in an investment scheme? How might you respond if the local chapter of the AARP listed your agency as one of several that is selling inappropriate variable annuities with weak disclaimers?

Every practice — and that means yours — should make an effort to develop a crisis management plan before a crisis occurs. This includes the creation of critical “to do” lists and making sure your employees understand the nuances of the plan.

A crisis leader must follow a comprehensive protocol that includes the mobilization of teams, systems, and tools in order to successfully respond to a crisis and recover from its impact. How you communicate with victims, employees, and other stakeholders during those precious first hours after an incident could deeply affect the reputation of your organization and your customer relationships for years to come.

You may have the best D&O and E&O coverage, but facing the microphone of the local, regional or national news media is not covered by insurance: only you can speak for your company when “it” hits the fan.

Having analyzed crisis management at great (and not so great) companies for 26 years, I can tell you that the best financial service leaders have a crisis plan in place. They know how to contact key home office, distribution and field leaders 24/7. They have already constructed a “shadow Web site” to replace their existing model so that customers will know how to contact key individuals in the event of a high-profile incident. Smart companies think about impression management from the instant a crisis hits.

Think also now, in advance, about where you would relocate your practice in the event of a major catastrophe. Renting office space in your community could be next to impossible if every other local professional practice has also been displaced because of an earthquake or major storm. Consider who will speak with the news media, and how you will rehearse and test messages in advance so you avoid a notorious “Alexander Haig” syndrome of misspeak at the microphone.

Crises are scary, but don’t run and hide under your covers. There’s hope when you are prepared for a crisis. Raise these issues at your next staff meeting — and be ready for a bit of paranoia, a lot of thoughtful discussion — and maybe, just maybe, your clients will thank you one day for being an anticipatory leader.

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