How to prepare a crisis communication plan and be crisis-ready
Crisis always comes suddenly. That’s the one certainty about crisis and it is no respecter of any person, brand or corporation.
They may start small, but one third of all business crises spread to an international level within just a few hours. This is fueled by social media- the new age “monster.” Therefore, PR experts and indeed all organizations must have in place a crisis communications plan
The 3 phases of a crisis: Before, during, and after
Before a crisis
You won’t have any influence on when, where, or how a company may be affected, but you’ll have control over how you respond to the situation. That’s why a crisis communication plan should be prepared, regularly reviewed, and updated. Follow these pre-crisis steps:
Step 1. Examine all possible crisis scenarios
During the first step, you should collect information on all possible scenarios of things going wrong. Because it’s not easy to prepare for unexpected situations, here’s a list of different types of possible crises:
- Natural disaster
- Disruption to normal business processes
- Major accident
- Strike action
- Public unrest
- Product defect
- Kidnap situation
It is important to evaluate the risk for each type of crisis possible, and delegate responsibility.
A problem can cause a stir, but doesn’t damage a brand long-term. A crisis, on the other hand, can cause long-term damage to your brand and lead to financial losses. Once you’ve defined what constitutes a crisis versus a problem internally, you’re able to design better plans and use your resources more effectively.
Step 2. Identify all parties involved
Prepare a list of all stakeholders and affected parties who should be kept up-to-date during a crisis. This list may include members of staff, customers, users, partners, investors, media, the government, and the public in general. Where a crisis is site-specific, the list should also include people who are close to a certain location. Make sure that all relevant contact information for each group is included in your plan.
The person or team who announces a critical situation may not be ultimately responsible for communicating it.
Step 3. Decide on the spokesperson
Select the main spokesperson. It may or may not be the CEO. The person should be media-trained and be media savvy.
Step 4. Prepare a statement and answers to commonly asked questions
In every crisis people will have questions. Whether it’s a client’s legal counsel or a reporter, the public will want to know the truth.
One of the first steps usually involves giving a statement. That’s why good planning includes preparing statements for pre-defined emergencies. When required, these statements can be modified to suit a particular situation.
Statements should be brief and reassure the public that the company is taking the necessary steps to investigate the issue and will be sharing further information at a later point in time.
Step 5: Keep an eye on public opinion
You should actively monitor and analyze all traditional and social media responses.
Reactive communication is just as important. Every negative mention in the media should be addressed as quickly as possible.
During a crisis
When a crisis breaks, the panic mode sets in. But by following a well articulated crisis communications plan, you can deal with the crisis more effectively. Here are the steps to take during a crisis:
Step 1. Adapt communications previously prepared
If you prepared well, you can now reap the benefits. Use your previously drafted statements and adapt them to the current situation. Before you share your message across all communication channels, you should consider the peculiarities of the individual platform and adapt materials where necessary.
Step 2. Draft a simple message
For a more trustworthy message, a company should avoid technical jargon and focus on communication that’s easy-to-understand.
Don’t overload your statement with unimportant details, keeping it to just three important points. The clearer your communication, the easier it will be for the public to comprehend it.
Step 3. Share the same message across all channels
While your message should be adapted to individual channels, its core ideas should be the same.
Step 4. Provide a secure platform for complaints and questions
Monitor reactions closely and respond accordingly without running the risk of things getting out of hand.
After a crisis
The follow-up to a problematic time is just as important as the preparation and in-crisis communication. One thing is certain: this won’t be the last crisis.
Using your crisis communication plan should be followed up to incorporate insights gained during this time for future communication.
Here are the actionable items after a crisis:
Step 1. Share the changes to be made
A statement alone is rarely enough. A company’s words should be followed by action, otherwise, the public won’t take your efforts seriously. Changes made to your processes need to be made public in order to boost the reputation of your brand.
Step 2. Check your analyses
It’s important to take stock of a situation after an emergency has ended in order to revise your crisis communication plan or possibly even your entire PR strategy on the basis of your findings. Additionally, reports shared with stakeholders should be based on the information collected during the crisis.
Step 3. Update your crisis communication plan
Identify the weaknesses of your crisis communication plan afterward in order to rectify them and be prepared for the next emergency. Continuous adaptation is important to incorporate best practices for your business and consider new strategies.
Finally: Don’t let a crisis go to waste
Crises can affect all companies, but luckily businesses can prepare for them and create a business crisis communication plan. Unprepared communications during a crisis present a high risk for companies. Therefore, businesses should create a comprehensive crisis communication plan which allows for secure and fast action during difficult times.
Public relations and crisis managers need to develop a fundamental understanding of their communication and coping schemes.
A crisis communications plan protects the most important assets of a company: its reputation and brand. Businesses that invest in crisis management recover quicker during emergencies and save costs compared to those that are not prepared.