Bad news: Not if; when.

When your business experiences a significantly adverse incident or series of events that have the potential to seriously damage your organization’s people, operations or reputation, that’s not just bad PR, that’s a crisis.

If your organization is getting the wrong kind of attention, what is the cause and what do you have in place to address it effectively? Are you prepared to talk immediately to those most affected and resolve the key problem(s)? What about your employees, shareholders, customers, regulators, neighbors, and community? Are you already listening to conversations going on about your business in social media or, turning a deaf ear?

Traditional media used to be the great concern as regards bad PR in a crisis. Those were the days. Now consumer-generated media can light a fuse that burns bright and fast, escalating out of control.

When you are having trouble is not the time to start listening to the consumer conversations, building your social media infrastructure or developing a rapport with editors and reporters. Do it now. Understand and leverage social media tools to engage your communities. Meet with reporters and editors and learn how they work, what you can expect from them and what they can expect from you. Educate influencers about your business and key people.

Effective management of a crisis requires a commitment to unassailable behavior while acting quickly, decisively, and directly. Anything less and you are extending the life of the crisis and the depth of the damage. Credible conduct is the foundation on which success is built when dealing with trouble. It allows you to:

Think clearly. Deliberate calmly and with all speed.

Identify the problem(s) and assess. Even the lowest level employee should feel free to do so with candor. Have the common sense view and anticipate consequences.

Act quickly and responsibly. Solving problems and “winning” in crisis situations is a function of speed… of decision making, of action, of reaction, of collaboration, of common sense in action.

Now, what do you have to do to think clearly, identify the problem and assess and act quickly and responsibly? Here are the six steps to take to effectively manage a crisis

1. Plan
You do not want to learn how to operate a fire extinguisher when you are on fire. Plan ahead. Identify what can disrupt your organization. Involve the “boss” and build a clear plan that identifies risks, roles and communication flow and establishes protocols for action.

2. Test
A tested plan is a workable plan. Plans of every sort have earned a reputation as dust gathering door stops. Be the exception. Changes in the business, personnel and vulnerabilities suggest that the crisis team revisit the plan quarterly and test it annually.

3. Pre-authorize.
Few things are more paralyzing than dithering about who is authorized to do or say what. Those old enough to remember, can recall General Alexander Haig, President Reagan’s secretary of state at the time, famously claiming, “I’m in control here” following Reagan’s hospitalization after the assassination attempt. Get this figured out now.

4. Take action.
Most crises happen fast and travel faster. Skip the whole denial, delay and depression thing. While stalling and acting defensive may be your comfort zone, it soon will be very uncomfortable for your business. Do what should be done promptly and with care.

5. Behave well.
If you are focused on doing the right thing right, you are exceptionally well equipped to overwhelm bad news with common sense.

6. Act with humanity.
Even doing the right thing right can disrupt lives and fortunes. This is not the time to put on your corporate game face. When you are making those right decisions, implement them humanely, face-to-face when possible, and with all sincerity.

A poor response to bad PR, or a crisis, can be more destructive than the bad news itself. In the event of bad news, people expect and deserve candor, an explanation, a commitment to address the issue, an expression of regret, consultation of others to help problem solve, higher standards of performance, and restitution. Are you ready to respond appropriately when needed to do the right thing while protecting your brand? Can your organization handle bad PR?