It is Not Too Late: Review Your Crisis Communication Plan Now
Ready to review your crisis communications plan?
Contact a PR Pro today!
By Beth Braen, Director Client Services
We are in the biggest crisis most of us – maybe all of us – have experienced in our lifetimes, COVID19, never mind in our professional lives. My advice – do not panic! This is the time to take a breath, review your crisis communications plan and prepare for what is still to come. Whether we like it or not, every one of us is tasked with responding to the ongoing crisis, and how you respond can make the difference between bankroll and bankruptcy. Whether you are on the board of a nonprofit, the marketing manager of a small business or the corporate communications exec at a large corporation, it is not too late to review what you’re already doing and make changes if needed.
So here are my tips which have helped me whether I’m supporting one of our clients in their crisis communications or in my volunteer work on a synagogue board as we’ve developed an approach for keeping our members in the know during a very fluid time. I hope you’ll find they are easily customizable to your situation. In my experience, organizations that take a proactive approach in crisis management and business continuity can often avoid the harmful impact that missteps, layoffs and furloughs, financial restructuring or difficult shifts in business can have on their reputation, financial performance and employee morale.
Staying at the Ready
Good executive leadership and effective decision making are crucial in managing a crisis. Continually reviewing the protocols you have in place is far better than scrambling and becoming reactive. Here are the necessary steps I recommend for a successful crisis communications strategy. If you have not adopted these, now is the time.
- Leadership team – be sure the chain of command and communication is clear. A primary crisis team should already be in place and prepared to give strong internal direction and reflect a consensus across the entire executive management front. In fact, no communication should be released before it is approved including social media messages, news releases, interviews, or company blog posts at any level of the organization. A secondary team should also be in place representing each key department and tasked with delivering a targeted response or outreach—especially those on the front line such as sales and customer service. The team should operate from one “command center” in order to ensure immediacy even when based around the globe and in different departments.
- Team contacts — all primary and secondary crisis communications teams’ contact information should be integrated into one list featuring mobile phone numbers, email addresses, approved text messaging apps and usernames – along with directions on how to get through quickly. Many organizations assign a code word.
- Timeline – the crisis communications leadership must work together to craft a plan for short-, mid– and long-term steps to ensure consistency of story.
- Gather the facts – understand the facts behind the crisis and put these in writing as potential message points. Collect all available information, both internally and externally. Review constantly.
- Convene the crisis communication team – core team members should be meeting regularly by video conference call and deciding courses of action Since this must be done swiftly and often, the core members should take the lead, and then bring in the rest of the team if additional stressors warrant such action. Be sure to prioritize what is in fact a crisis and assess the potential impact. For example, will the issue hurt your profitability? Will it affect company operations and workflow? Will your reputation be damaged? Were employees, partners or customers harmed?
Managing communication of key messages
- Talk with the board & stakeholders – this may have already been done, but the entire board and each of the stakeholder partners needs to be contacted by the CEO immediately. Each call should be one-on-one and ensure the stability of the company and management team. Determine and stick to a plan of regularly scheduled and personal updates throughout the duration of the crisis.
- Decide to be the hero, not victim or villain – if you are complete in your briefing, ensure that you are being, now and always, entirely authentic and committed to doing the right thing to avoid being perceived as anything but a hero. Be clear and paint a realistic picture of the swirling challenges and your fresh approach.
- Review key messages: Solidify high level messages to be delivered repeatedly and clearly and ideally by one key spokesperson.
Methods of communication
- Control the message – stick to the facts and to main messages, thus controlling what information is disseminated. This information should be completely factual and forthcoming.
- Utilize your social media monitoring – ensure your searches are ready to go and add in any keywords that pertain to the crisis
- Respond to media and others – while the media will shape public opinion about how you are responding to the crisis, others may fuel the flames of controversy and need to be personally addressed too. Therefore, it is important to respond to all requests, be sensitive to deadlines and provide all reporters with the same information—in most cases avoid exclusive stories.
Preparation and delivery of key communications
Prepare and distribute necessary news releases, schedule posts on social media and prepare other documents for a press conference. Ensure the spokesperson is briefed and has a clear voice throughout all deliverables. Check for spikes in media coverage and respond when and where appropriate. This includes monitoring your social activity and participating in the conversation.
Reassess the situation and perform a postmortem
Throughout the process, it is helpful to conduct regular debriefings to document what you have learned, who you spoke with and ensure you are being thorough. You will learn where you handled the crisis effectively and where there is room for improvement.
For tips on how to stay relevant with your marketing and public relation initiatives during a crisis such as a pandemic, read our blog, PR and Marketing During Coronavirus: How to Stay Relevant During a Crisis.