The answer to the question of who needs a crisis communications plan is: every organization. In today’s world, no one can hide. Transparency is here to stay. Therefore, when the worst happens, every business can count on being immediately under a microscope. We shouldn’t pretend otherwise.
It is critical to have a well planned, thoroughly buttoned-up and immediately actionable crisis plan at your fingertips. It should be well-rehearsed by everyone within your organization who has a role to play in it.
A crisis plan should not be “one and done” and then put on a shelf. It should be reviewed annually in order to determine what circumstances (either internal or external) may have changed. As new key people are added to your organization, they should review it as part of their initial orientation.
Key components of a good crisis communications plan are:
1. It should cover all areas of potential vulnerability, not just the most obvious or extreme circumstances.
2. It should be fluid and flexible enough to work within a wide range of situations.
3. It should assign key roles to specific people, and those people should be trained initially, as well as re-trained periodically, in keeping with emerging corporate challenges and new circumstances.
4. It should be updated and rehearsed annually.
5. Any actual crisis should be studied in terms of how it might inform future modifications or additions to your plan.
6. You should view the potential effectiveness of your crisis communications plan within the lens of your key audiences (not just within your “insider perspective”).
7. Update your lists of key audiences and their contact information at least annually.
8. For certain types of businesses (those with a higher risk of potential crises), consider doing actual “table top drills,” in which you play out your actions and responses in a real-time/role-playing situation.
9. Study how other, similar organizations have reacted and responded in times of crisis in order to evaluate what they did right and wrong that you can then learn from.
10. Know who your key, third-party advocates are and keep them adequately informed about your business in normal as well as in crisis times.
Having a crisis communications plan is critical, but so is continually updating it and practicing it!