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Crisis Communications Planning

Is it too late? The short answer is “no.” You don’t need an actual crisis as the impetus to create or update how you communicate during one (granted, the pandemic has been a big, surprising one!).

Every organization at every stage of its development should have a solid crisis plan in place and should revisit it once a year to determine if updates are needed. Even if there are no apparent crises looming, none of us have crystal balls allowing us to peer into the future, and hopefully the current COVID crisis has spurred us into internalizing this and taking preemptive action in this regard.

To begin trying to make a list of all the possible crises that your organization might have to face is pointless because many of them come out of the blue and are totally unexpected.  There are, however, general categories which these types of events tend to fall within, to name a few of the most common:

  1. Financial/economic
  2. Legal/fraud
  3. Injuries, illnesses or death
  4. Environmental
  5. Reputational
  6. Leadership issues

However, rather than trying to anticipate every possible scenario, your plan should be grounded in the following:

  • What are your organization’s core beliefs and values which drive every major decision you make and must be protected, no matter what?
  • Do you have mechanisms in place to mobilize quick action and to allow your organization to avoid drifting from your core beliefs, regardless of the situation with which you are faced? In other words, have you actually spelled out the specific actions you would take (and not take) in the event of your most likely scenarios?
  • Have you communicated the main points of your plan to your internal audiences in terms of the behavior you expect of them and their specific roles in handling a crisis?
  • Is your plan fully spelled out in writing, with clear detailed assignments of responsibilities?
  • Have the primary participants in executing your plan practiced doing so (mock scenarios, table-top drills, etc.)?
  • Have you thought through in advance the various contingency plans you might need and how they would be determined and executed, beyond your most likely and immediate responses?
  • Have your spokespersons been identified and trained to speak to the news media, as well as to other key external audiences? Have those external audiences been fully identified and prioritized, and do you have updated contact information for each of them?
  • Have you committed to how rigorous you intend to be in terms of revisiting and updating your plan as needed (at least annually)?

While you can imagine the types of crises that would be most logical for your organization to potentially have to deal with, it is impossible to think of them all.  So rather than dwelling too much on the details of every possible scenario, I believe the most important thing is to adopt an overall “crisis mindset” which puts guardrails around your beliefs and value system, and which lays out a well-thought-through series of actions which would apply to most crisis situations. Then do the continuous work of filling in the blanks on those situations which might apply most directly to your particular business or organization.

Crisis readiness is a mindset that is underscored by nimbleness, basic training, and a commitment to frequent revisitation of your plan in light of our ever-changing organizational and world events.  It’s never too late to get started!

Cathy Ackermann, founder and president of Ackermann Marketing and PR, may be reached at cackermann@thinkackermann.com

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