October 22, 2012
It’s not a matter of if a crisis will happen, but when. From natural threats such as severe weather to man-made threats that range from cyber security to white collar crime, no business sector is immune. Add to that, the incident does not even have to be true but only perceived to inflict damage to your reputation.
What an organization says during a crisis can affect the outcome as much as what it does. If your organization doesn’t have a crisis communications plan in place, you should begin developing one. I hope you never need it, but if you do, you’ll be glad that you prepared.
There are four steps to crisis communications planning and implementation:
- Prevention – What your organization has done and continues to do to avert disaster.
- Preparation – Planning, training, documentation and a myriad other elements that enable your organization to respond swiftly and appropriately at the moment of crisis.
- Response – What you do and how you communicate that to your stakeholders.
- Recovery – Assessing the damage, reviewing performance, improving the process and rebuilding.
Here are some basic steps your organization can take now to get the crisis communications planning process started:
Assess the Risks and Preventive Measures – Do a self-assessment of the range of risks to which you could potentially be exposed and then determine what your organization has done and still can do to avert disaster. Document the measures that are taken, so that should a crisis occur, you can prove to authorities that you have taken precautionary measures. It is worth noting that while your organization may follow the letter of the law, compliance is viewed by many as the minimum an organization can do. How does your organization go above and beyond what is required?
Prepare and Organize – Identify your stakeholders, those with whom you want to communicate in the event of a crisis. The list might include employees, shareholders, customers, regulatory agencies, law enforcement authorities, news media or others. Establish a Crisis Communications Response Team who will implement the plan. In addition to corporate communications or PR professionals, your team will include C-level executives, topic experts from within the organization as well as external experts, legal counsel and insurers. Identify and media train the individuals who will speak on behalf of the organization.
Identify Resources – Resources may take many forms. At the top of your list should be your organization’s website, which you can update swiftly in the event of an emergency. Consider both “human” resources as well material goods. For example, do you have a network of allies that can help you disseminate messaging? Access to video conferencing should you want to hold a news conference with journalists from around the country? Assemble a list of what you have and what you might need and incorporate these elements into a crisis communications toolbox.
Develop Key Messaging – Having identified the potential crises, you should draft key message points that would address each specific crisis scenario. Messaging may take many forms: website content, an email to employees, a press release for news media, a letter to customers and a script for customer service are some of the most common. Although you’ll need to adjust the messaging for specific incidences, having the fundamental language prepared will be a big help.
Keep it Current. A crisis communications plan with outdated contact information, retired spokespersons and out-of-date messaging won’t do you much good. Review the plan regularly to make sure it is current and keep both electronic and print copies in readily accessible locations, which should include your home.
You never know when or if a crisis might our, but you should anticipate that one will.
What are some of the best crisis communications tactics or tools that you would recommend to others? Do you think that social media is more of a curse or a cure for organizations communicating in a crisis mode?