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.
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?
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?
Here are 10 steps I recommend that you include in your Crisis Communications Plan.
- 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.
- 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.
- Determine the appropriate position for the organization to take regarding the crisis. This will require input from all members of the team.
- 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.
- Designate a spokesperson. One individual should be designated as the primary spokesperson to make official statements and answer media questions throughout the crisis.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.)
- Gather and/or prepare additional collateral materials and fact sheets to provide to the public and media.
- Debrief after each major step in the crisis, and again at the end.
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.