It is sometimes too easy to let crisis communications fall by the wayside, always taking a back seat to the rigors and constant challenges of the day-to-day operations of a business.
However, this could not be more dangerous. We have seen (and worked with) many organizations whose failure to plan ahead in this regard has “bitten them.” And all too often, the kinds of damaging circumstances that can arise during a crisis can require much more time-intensive work on the organization’s part than it would have taken to create a solid, proactive plan in the first place.
Some basic, get-started questions to ask yourself include the following:
• What are the types of serious crises which could impact your organization? Make a prioritized list of these.
• What are the basic elements of a plan that will protect your organization’s business, employees and reputation?
• Who in your organization should be in charge of what in the event of a crisis?
• What training is required to execute a solid, well-thought-out plan, and how can you build in periodic practice sessions and updates to your plan, as needed?
• Who are the key audiences you need to communicate with, and what levels and types of communication will be most appropriate?
• Do you have an updated list of media outlets and contact people?
• Who will your spokespeople be, and have they been properly trained to play these roles in a crisis?
Another important area of consideration is how your operations, communications and legal representatives interact with each other in various crisis scenarios. In our firm’s work as communications professionals, we strongly advise getting on the same page with an organization’s attorneys prior to a crisis possibly occurring. For instance:
• Review the crisis communications plan with attorneys representing the organization (long before a crisis occurs).
• Determine respective roles.
• Understand potential legal liabilities and build those into the communications plan on the front end.
• Reach agreement on appropriate responses (other than “no comment!”) which both protect the company legally and provide as much transparency as appropriate.
Following the creation and approval of a crisis communications plan, it is important to not just “put it on the shelf.” Your organization should rehearse your response to possible crisis situations according to a pre-determined schedule. Enact various scenarios with your staff and advisors in “real time,” and periodically trigger events that will test your plan. You will need to tweak it periodically in order to be sure it remains relevant over time, as circumstances evolve within your organization.
Social media, of course, plays an increasingly important role in how businesses deal with crises, so be sure you have the people and tools in place to effectively monitor your social media platforms and to respond quickly to misinformation and accusations.
If your organization is affected by government regulations, it is critical to know in advance how you intend to interact and communicate with these key audiences in the event of a crisis. Also, identify your “loudest opponents” and who would be most likely to drive negative comments and criticism, and be sure you know how to best reach and address them.
While it is impossible to create a crisis communications plan for every possible scenario and to address every possible audience or critic, it is possible to look seriously at your most likely risk factors and to put an overall plan in place for how your organization will behave and communicate during a crisis.