For crisis communication professionals, it is wise to prepare for the worst while expecting the best. There is often little advance warning that a brand is about to come under intense negative scrutiny. An essential part of preparing for the worst is creating a crisis communication plan that is ready to roll out when negative momentum starts to build. In the same way that you would not wait for an emergency to make a plan for your personal safety, crisis communication professionals take the time to craft a plan before a crisis hits.
Here are 7 things to keep in mind when creating a crisis communication plan:
1. Establish a crisis communication team.
This team will consist of standing members and ad-hoc members recruited in times of crisis. The standing members should include senior management such as the CEO, the head of public relations, a member of the legal department, and division managers. As needed, pre-identified individuals most closely affected by a current problem will join the team for the duration of the crisis. With this framework in place, all parties know whom to contact when a serious problem arises. It is also important to assign a designated contact or gatekeeper to field any inquiries from the press.
2. Identify the types of negative attention your brand might attract.
The sooner you map out the types of negative attention and crisis events your company might face, the better prepared you’ll be with an appropriate course of action for each. The communication courses you take in your online MBA program at Southeastern Oklahoma State University can provide you with the skills you need to identify the risks to your brand.
3. Assess your organization’s strengths and weaknesses.
Not everyone can remain calm under pressure or poised when faced with demanding reporters. Be sure to identify people in your organization who are comfortable in these situations. The key is to name them beforehand. It is also important to recognize that different situations will warrant different representatives: there will be times when a communications professional can respond to inquiries and others when a senior member of management is necessary. Part of your job is to decide when each is appropriate.
4. Identify your organization’s core values and message.
When a crisis occurs, it may seem easy to respond directly to the allegations. However, this is not always the best course of action, given that some claims made in the heat of the moment may not be valid. Responding to every claim will likely complicate the situation. A better approach is to craft messages that reinforce your brand’s core values while assuring the parties concerned that you are listening and taking action. You do not have to immediately announce specific actions; in fact, you probably will not know which actions are necessary until you’ve had time to investigate the claims. The purpose here is to make it clear that you are taking the situation seriously.
5. Establish protocols in your crisis communication plan for dealing with the press.
Where will company spokespersons meet with the press? It is best to designate an area where the press should gather. Which questions will your representative answer and which will they avoid? It is imperative that no one on the crisis response team (or anyone in the larger organization) speaks off the record or makes unapproved social media statements.
6. Make announcements.
Let the press covering the story know that there will be regularly scheduled opportunities for questions and answers with company experts. As legal reasons could preclude the use of certain statements, consult the legal department to craft a general message to defuse a potentially negative situation. You can create a preliminary timetable as part of the crisis communication plan, updating it as the situation warrants.
7. Include updated contact information in the communication plan.
Press releases are a useful tool, but only if they reach the right people. Ensure that the communication plan includes contact information for the outlets that you want to stay up to date on your news.
Learn more about the SOSU online MBA with an emphasis in Strategic Communication program.
NewsPlace.org: Crisis Communication Plan
Ready.gov: Crisis Communications Plan