Are you prepared for a crisis to hit your organization? This is question is less about if a crisis will hit and more about when a crisis will emerge. Whether the result of a natural disaster (i.e., hurricane), human error (Comcast’s now infamous “customer service” call), or something more nefarious (i.e., data security breach), every organization and company will face crises. You may have the necessary insurance and some operational contingencies, but too often the communications side of a crisis is ignored. The organizations that don’t address crisis communications do so at their own peril. As countless examples demonstrate, how a company responds to a crisis could have a more significant impact on its bottom line than the crisis itself.
More than anything else, it’s critical to have a crisis communications plan in place. Given how fast-moving any crisis can be, this is not something you want to make up as you go along. Most marketing, PR, and communications experts will encourage that an organization develop a plan first. That’s good advice, but we want to dig a bit deeper and share five tips that can make your plan more effective and better prepare you for the inevitable crisis scenario:
- Prepare for contingencies: When developing a crisis communications plan, you should think through as many contingencies as possible. What type of crises might you face? What crises have similar companies had to handle? By outlining as many potential crisis scenarios as possible you’ll be more responsive when one arrives. In fact, responsiveness is one of the key attributes of handling any crisis situation. However you can position yourself to be more responsive is a good thing.
- Identify audiences: Plans must outline who target audiences are and in what situations they need to be addressed. Remember to be broad here. Common audiences include employees, customers, government officials, business partners, vendors, investors, suppliers, neighbors/community members, news media, and others.
- Identify spokespeople: The best plans clearly outline who are members of a crisis team and who will serve as spokespeople. You can assign different spokespeople to different audiences, but they all must be trained to communicate with the same voice and messaging.
- Update regularly: Simply writing a plan and putting it on a shelf is not going to be helpful. Review the plan annually and update it as needed. For example, have new company locations been added or have identified spokespeople left the company and thus need to be replaced?
- Practice: The adage that practice makes perfect is true. It might seem silly, but practicing a crisis situation, including the communications component, can ensure your team is prepared. It also highlights areas of improvement that can be addressed before the real thing happens.
It’s important to note that these these types cover just some aspects of a crisis communications plan. These plans should be thorough and ready to execute at a moment’s notice. For more information on crisis communications and developing a plan, there are a number of reference materials and consultants willing to help (including us). One of our favorite free reference guides is from Ready.gov and details key aspects of a crisis communication plan. Preparing for a crisis is never easy or fun, but having a solid plan in place when that crisis hits is worth all the effort.