How can you stop a small- to mid-sized PR problem from becoming a full-blown crisis? By creating and following a crisis management plan when there are no crises in sight.
Before you say that you don’t need a crisis management plan, or can’t invest the resources to create one, take a few minutes and let your imagination run wild. What would you do if a leader in your organization was arrested in a high-profile case? Or your customers’ financial information was hacked? Or a product you make harmed or injured someone?
I’m not trying to scare you here. But each of these scenarios, and plenty of others, have the potential to drive a minor PR problem off the rails. That’s especially true if there’s video of the incident or the people involved are quick to share the details on social media.
If either of those things happen, you won’t have long to react. And you certainly won’t have time to craft a full and well-thought-out crisis management plan.
Although it takes time to get a plan right, it’s well worth your effort. Start today by following our six-step checklist, putting your answers in writing and sharing them with the appropriate people in your organization.
Ready? Let’s get started!
- Brainstorm worst-case scenarios. Write down everything you can think of that could be considered a crisis for your organization. These categories can be broad – a natural disaster, an accident on your property or a recall on one of your products, just as examples. You can narrow the list later as needed.
- Identify your audiences. These are the groups of people who need to receive important information and reassurance from you during a crisis. Your audiences could be external (the general public), internal (your employees), traditional media, or even your shareholders or board of directors. You want to identify your potential audiences ahead of time so no one is overlooked as a crisis unfolds. Just remember, since your audiences represent different groups, you may need to adjust your messaging to address their specific questions and concerns.
- Create a communications list. On this list, you’ll want to include who should receive the information – these are your audiences – and your method for sharing it with each. Intranet, emails, text messages, tweets, website posts, Facebook posts and press releases are all possibilities.
Also, you should recognize that your internal messages may end up being shared with a wider audience, unless expressly marked “for internal use only.” Even then, there are no guarantees that internal message won’t be shared and spread.
- Designate a spokesperson. For most organizations, one spokesperson is fine. Depending on the size of your organization, your spokesperson could be its CEO or president, or the head of your communications department. Of course, if a crisis grows big enough, your audience will likely want to hear from your organization’s highest-ranking person.
You also want to be sure that your designated spokesperson is comfortable talking on camera and with the media. If not, offer training and practice in advance.
- Determine who will write and distribute your messages. This may or may not be your spokesperson. The person who is writing your messages during a crisis must be able to organize his or her thoughts quickly; keep messaging standard across distribution channels; and communicate in an authentic, jargon-free and compassionate voice. Also, determine who must give final approval on messages before they are distributed (if it’s not the person writing them).
- Review and update your plan regularly. Crisis communication plans should be reviewed at least once a quarter and updated whenever key people leave or join your organization. You’ll also want to share the plan with new top-level employees as part of their onboarding process.
Crisis management plans take time to create, but knowing you have one in place can help you sleep better at night. Really.
If you aren’t sure how to get started, or need someone to make sure you’ve covered all your bases, we can help. Contact us today to learn more.