What Belongs in a Crisis Communications Plan?

This is part two of a four-part series on crisis communications. In part one, we covered why every business should be ready for a crisis with a response plan in place.

Planning is the best way to be sure you’re prepared. The crisis response plan should address at least the basics so that WHEN (not if, but when) a crisis occurs, you’re ready to hit the ground running to contain the damage before it spirals out of control. It could make the difference between a minor crisis blowing up into a major disaster for your brand.

If you’re thinking about putting together a crisis communications plan for your business, where do you start? Here are the basics to consider:

Select a crisis team

This should include various departments across the company, such as management, communications, legal, HR, and operations. For smaller companies, this may be simple, as the owner assumes many of these responsibilities. It can raise important points, for example, making sure you have an attorney in place should you need one.

Of course, the communications piece is critical, so if this isn’t your strong suit, make sure you have someone to call on for help. For example, we’ve seen brands digging themselves into a deeper hole than they need to when they fail to have a solid response on social media to questions or criticisms during a crisis. The public-facing piece is vital, as is communicating internally to your employees and shareholders, so don’t skimp here. Hire help if you need it.

Determine audiences

The audiences you should consider include your customers, employees, the news media, the community, partners, and perhaps investors. This varies, depending on the type of business and the type of crisis.

Designate a spokesperson

This is usually the CEO or owner of the business. In a larger company, it could be another C-level executive. If needed, you can name more than one spokesperson, such as one who can handle more complex questions requiring specifics the CEO may not be as well versed in. Remember, too, that it’s always a good idea to have a backup, just in case your top choice is traveling, ill, or otherwise unavailable.

Prepare for interviews

Practice answering tough questions. Prepare a Q&A session that covers the most difficult questions and the answers you want to provide. For example, once I worked on an agricultural event when swine flu was in the news. We prepared the spokesperson to address tough questions on the risk to the public, as we knew the media would ask.

And DON’T just “wing it”—you need practice. And it isn’t only the words you use but the tone. More on that here.

Establish policies and procedures for dealing with the media.

These may vary, but some common practices include:

  • Routing all journalists to the same contact or department.
  • Logging every call/contact.
  • Keeping notes on how each contact is handled. If you promise to follow up with a reporter on a question, be sure to do that.

If you’re proactive in working with journalists, they tend to go a little easier on you. They’ll trust and believe you more than if you’re evasive and dodge questions. Give straight answers. If you don’t know an answer, it’s OK to say you’ll find out and get back to them. Then be sure to do that, in as timely a manner as possible.

Keep in mind that this is a very basic outline. If you’re ready to start planning for what your organization will do in the event of a crisis, try following the above steps to draw up a simple framework. Or, contact a PR expert to help you flesh out a plan to fit your needs.

Let’s take a look at how to apologize, if you need to – GO TO PART THREE.