When you think of crisis communications what comes to mind? Is it the Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010? Maybe the Tylenol scandal of 1982? We have all heard of a crisis situation in some context but what we don’t think about as much is how the communications professionals in these companies handled the crisis.
Behind the scenes of every crisis there is a communications team working to determine how to handle the situation. Depending on the severity of the crisis, this process can look very different from situation to situation. But all crisis management situations have one thing in common – the end result is dependent on how prepared the organization is for any crisis. The best way to prepare is to create a crisis communications plan.
So what goes into a great crisis communications plan? Every plan is different but they share similar elements.
This should be the first step of a good crisis communications plan. When doing this assessment the organization must evaluate its strengths and weaknesses and look for opportunities and threats. Knowing the crises that are likely to happen requires an in depth analysis of the business. A risk assessment should be a live document that is routinely evaluated to ensure that it still reflects the current state of the business and the possible situations.
Obviously, there are always crisis situations that no one could predict or plan for but in general, most crises can be expected. For example if you’re on the communications team at an amusement park you would create a crisis communications plan in the event that someone is injured on a ride. That is a risk you expect in that type of business, so you plan how the organization would respond.
Now that you have an idea of what might happen, you can create draft responses for a variety of scenarios. These responses should be drafted so that a spokesperson can be prepped on these responses. This saves time and effort, should a crisis happen there is bound to be a lot of stress throughout the organization, having prepared answers helps calm some of that stress.
When a crisis arises the response should be altered to fit the specific situation. The response will be best received by a person that is trusted and knowledgeable, different people for different situations. For example, some responses pertaining to professional conduct may be best received from the CEO. But, if the CEO is not media trained or does not demonstrate empathy they are probably not the best person for the response.
Social Media Responses.
Going along with the sample spokesperson response, a crisis communications plan should include sample social media posts. Many people turn to social media to get information directly from the organization, especially during a crisis situation.
On top of having prepared posts, the social media team should also be prepared to answer questions. It is important to have a clear understanding of what information is public at all times, you should answer as many questions as you can on social media but you might get some questions that need to be answered in a more formal manner. You should draft responses to those questions as well. It should also be noted that any scheduled social media posts should be cancelled in order to deal with the crisis at hand.
Contacts and Media Lists.
Should a crisis situation come up, your organization must have a list of key personnel that need to be involved and in-the-know. This could include anyone from the CEO and VP of Communications, to your PR agency and legal counsel. Your organization must also assign key spokespeople – and you may assign the role differently depending on the situation. These spokespeople must be media trained and aware of the crisis communications plan.
In the midst of a crisis you will definitely not have time to scour the internet for phone numbers and email addresses of key media personnel. You should have a contact list full of media and important contacts that you keep up to date. This will ensure that you are able to reach the right people to ensure that accurate information is shared with the public in a timely manner.
This contact list should include local, national, and industry contacts. You will not need to contact the full list for a crisis but you should have these key people because every crisis is different and different media outlets will be interested depending on the situation.
An audience analysis is a fairly standard aspect of marketing and business strategizing, so you likely already have one. Simply adapting it for a crisis is a great way to ensure you reach the right people.
Different sectors of your audience will care more about certain crises. This does not mean hiding the crisis from your audiences, rather it means you should focus your messaging to a specific audience group to ensure that the most involved and/or most affected audiences get the information that they need.
The boy scouts got it right in their motto: ‘Be Prepared’. Being prepared is the best way to handle a crisis. No organization is immune to crisis and every organization is different so creating a detailed, well-researched crisis communications plan will save time and headaches for the organization in the event of a crisis.
What are your most important elements of a crisis communications plan? Let us know in the comments below.