Consulting, Training

Developing a Crisis Communications Plan

A crisis is any situation that threatens the integrity or reputation of your organization. Here are some tips to get you started on developing a crisis communications plan.

Remember, every good communications planning process has four phases: research, planning, implementation and evaluation.

Research
Think about the types of crises your organization might face by doing an environmental scan.

  • Look around you: at organizations similar to yours, at your environment, your industry.
  • What are potential threats and weaknesses that could lead to a crisis? And how might you respond?

Planning
Before you face a crisis, there are critical pieces of information you need to have readily available.

  • Audiences: Who will you need to communicate with? Think internal, external and other stakeholder audiences.
  • Channels: What methods do you have to reach your audiences? I recommending having more than one method per audience so you have a backup solution if, for example, your website crashes.
  • Key Messages: It’s good to have a basic catalog of key messages going into a crisis. Basic facts about your organization such as size, locations, number of employees, mission/vision language, operations information, etc.
  • Spokespersons: Who is prepared to speak for your organization during a crisis? Is this person trained, a good speaker, and well-versed in your key messages?

Implementation

Here are 10 steps I recommend that you include in your Crisis Communications Plan.

  1. Assemble the Crisis Communications Team to identify what actions should be taken. Once the team is assembled, a list should be made of the people on the team, with cell phone numbers, and what each team member is responsible for.
  2. Identify communicators and keep records. All members of the team should begin keeping records of all documents, correspondence, and meeting notes related to the crisis.
  3. Determine the appropriate position for the organization to take regarding the crisis. This will require input from all members of the team.
  4. Create a prepared statement to be used to answer questions from your audiences. At minimum, a statement should include who, what, when and where of the situation.
  5. Designate a spokesperson. One individual should be designated as the primary spokesperson to make official statements and answer media questions throughout the crisis.
  6. Identify other parties involved in the crisis – partners, vendors, emergency responders, health officials, etc. – and the identities of their spokespersons so all statements and contacts with the media can be coordinated.
  7. Building on the prepared statement, create a news release that includes the details in the statement plus organizational key messages that have been developed by the team. Be sure to think about all of your audiences.
  8. Prepare questions and answers for the spokesperson and rehearse prior to addressing the public or media. (These are for internal use only and not for distribution outside the organization.)
  9. Gather and/or prepare additional collateral materials and fact sheets to provide to the public and media.
  10. Debrief after each major step in the crisis, and again at the end.

Evaluation
It’s critical to learn from successes and failures. Reassemble the Crisis Communications Team a few weeks after the crisis has died down, and remember what worked and what didn’t. Then go back and modify the plan accordingly.

This is just a high-level overview; if you want more detailed information, there are many books on the subject.

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