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When it comes to a crisis situation, it isn’t a matter of if, but when. In almost 15 years of experience, I’ve seen crises slowly build and crises emerge from seemingly nowhere. Crises have involved fraud, unprofessional behavior, mass shootings, natural disasters, offensive comments, dead bodies, lies perpetuated by competitors, deals that fall apart, and more. Despite the varied nature of crises that organizations and brands face, one thing remains constant: a crisis will happen. We’ve previously shared insights on what to do in a crisis and how real estate PR can learn from crisis communications. This post takes another perspective at crisis communications: how to put your crisis plan in action.

Hopefully your organization has a crisis plan in place. If not, that needs to be your top priority. Seriously, it should be among your key focus areas and you should push yourself to complete it by next month (even a basic plan). That plan should include a variety of contingencies, including crisis communications needs, office continuity plans, disaster training, and more. Even when you have your plan and are faced with a crisis in real-time, many leaders and communications pros freeze. You can’t do that. The communications and PR pro must keep a level head and think about both internal and external audiences.

We’ve got five tips to help keep you focused when you put your crisis plan into action.

Practice the Plan

The adage that practice makes perfect is applicable to crisis situations. If you’ve never faced a crisis situation or your organization hasn’t dealt with a serious crisis in the past two years, you need to practice. Running through your crisis plan with a real-world scenario will make everyone sharper. It also can help identify areas for improvement in your plan. To be effective, organization leaders should be involved as well. Spending a few hours practicing a scenario is well worth the effort. If you don’t already, plan to schedule a crisis scenario session once a year.

Gather Your Team

When a crisis hits, the first step should be to gather your Crisis Leadership Team. This team should be outlined in the crisis communications plan and can be assembled even as you’re gathering details on the crisis. The Crisis Leadership Team will vary by organization, but often includes company leaders (CEO, COO, CFO, etc.), internal communications and human resources leaders, and external PR agencies. This is the team that will evaluate the crisis, plan next steps, and craft ongoing messages to key audiences.

Follow the Plan

This sounds straightforward and as though it wouldn’t need to be stated, but it does. I’ve seen many instances in which a well-defined plan is ignored or thrown out the window when emotions spike during a crisis. You have a crisis communications plan for a reason. Use it. Don’t forget that the plan was developed in a thoughtful process because you don’t want emotions overtaking your decisions during a crisis. This is another reason practice sessions matter. Everyone can get comfortable with the plan. The most effective crisis responses are those that follow an established crisis communications plan.

Debrief Later

After crisis as subsided, it’s important to bring stakeholders¬† together to debrief the experience. Schedule this meeting within two weeks after a crisis is contained for resolved. Some crises will have long time frames and for those cases, organize the debrief after an initial crisis event. This is the ideal time – not during the crisis – to review the plan’s effectiveness. What worked? What didn’t? Have an open conversation and solicit constructive feedback.

Update the Plan

Don’t forget to update your crisis plan after the debrief session. Again, this seems self-evident, but you’d be surprise how many people forget this step. Share the revised plan with an organization’s leadership. Once the revised plan is approved by key leaders, share the new version and replace any old versions. Finally, keep the most recent version of the plan easily accessible to ensure no confusion.