Being good at PR is more than just having charisma and a face people trust. There’s a lot happening behind the scenes that’s carefully orchestrated to keep your organization on the right side of every situation. Part of that behind the scenes preparation is contingency planning.
For some reason, however, it’s not always treated as a priority. If this sounds familiar, here’s how to come up with a PR contingency plan and what’s in it for your organization.
What is contingency planning?
Broadly speaking, contingency planning means creating individual instructions to follow in case of specific situations. These situations can be positive (such as an influx of money), but contingency plans are created mostly as a response to negative events that may affect the reputation or financial health of an organization.
No matter the exact contingency, each set of instructions should detail the steps the organization needs to go through in order to minimize damage from it and determine who’s responsible for each and every one of these steps.
How is it different from crisis management, then?
Contingency planning vs crisis management
When you think about it, public relations efforts can either be reactive (when your PR team has to deal with existing problems) or proactive (when trying to prevent incidents from happening).
That’s essentially what makes contingency planning different from crisis management. While you plan for contingencies ahead of time, crisis management happens in the moment, as a reaction to something that’s already happened. It’s a matter of preparation versus response.
For this reason, it makes sense to take both into account when crafting your PR strategy. If you carefully plan how to respond to various crisis situations, you should be able to take immediate action when they occur.
How to implement PR contingency plans?
If you want to be prepared for any challenge that comes your way, it’s high time to start contingency planning. Here’s how to implement PR contingency plans in your organization.
1. Know how to reach your audience
A big part of contingency planning is knowing ahead of time how you’re going to get in touch with your customers, partners, and anyone else you want to reach out to when times get tough. If you can get to them first in times of crisis, you get the benefit of authenticity.
That’s precisely why it’s worth knowing how your target audience consumes news, receives updates, and seeks new information. Social media is often the quickest way to get a message out to people. However, it may not get the message to all the right people. It’s better to use a combination of channels to get more coverage.
For example, if you have an urgent message to communicate, you can publish the same (or similar) posts on every social network your company uses, send out emails directly to your contact list, and publish a press release.
2. Designate & train your staff
Contingency planning is all about addressing problems and crisis situations. Part of being thorough in your planning is creating multiple staff pathways to get things done.
You should always have more than one person to go to when things go wrong. Establish your primary staff and backup staff for each necessary activity, alert them of their status, and train them on what they need to do in the plan.
- Primary staff
The primary staff is the first in line to do a specific task in a plan. For example, a PR specialist could be the first to send out a press release that apologizes for a mistake that your organization made (i.e. publishing an inappropriate ad).
Name this person in your contingency plan, or at least specify the position or department responsible. This helps to ensure accountability for all tasks outlined in your contingency plans.
- Backup staff
The backup staff is next in line to perform a task if the primary person is unable to. They should still be specified in the plan and be aware of what their role involves.
Keep in mind that contingency planning means planning for the worst possible situations. If people die, retire, transfer to new positions, take leave, or are terminated, you need to have a backup who can be accountable for performing the necessary actions to make the plan work. It’s also vital to have a backup in case the crisis situation involves the primary staff in some way.
3. Classify your contingency plans
As already mentioned, there are plenty of contingencies that you might want to get prepared for. However, for the sake of staying organized, it’s also useful to classify your PR contingency plans according to what risk they address. Broad categorization like short-term or long-term risks is useful to an extent, but within these categories, you may need individual classifications to find things that you need when you need them.
Basically, you should organize your plans in a way that works for your organization. If something happens and you need to implement a specific contingency plan, it’s useful to be able to find the plan you need as quickly as possible. After all, time is of the essence.
4. List all your tools & assets
In the event of a crisis, your team needs to know what they have at their disposal and whether it can be utilized. That’s why it’s important to keep track of all assets, tools, and resources, along with needed credentials.
Modern organizations tend to have more software and digital assets rather than physical ones. At least once a year, create or edit your list of assets and tools. This can include anything you use within the organization. Common examples are:
- Important phone numbers
- Email lists
- Contact lists
- Social media profiles
- Website backend credentials
- PR software access
- Call center software accounts
Imagine that a part of the PR contingency plan is to publish a press release and the designated team member doesn’t have the access to your newsroom. What happens then?
5. Update your contingency plans regularly
It’s rare that the risks your business faces will remain constant. As challenges evolve, your PR contingency plans need to match the new reality.
The best way to get the outcome you want is to recognize that your plans must be flexible to changes in the environment and your organizational situation. Every few months, you need to go over your contingency plans and make sure they’re all still effective for the situation they’re addressing.
Start with answering these questions:
- Has the organization’s target audience changed?
- Can the audience still be reached through the channels specified in the plans?
- Are the risks addressed by PR contingency plans still risks?
- Has any of the plans been put into action since its creation? If yes, was it effective?
- Has anything occurred recently that would make the specified response inappropriate?
- Have the products or services the organization offers changed since the plans were created? If yes, does that affect them in any way?
- Are the specific people mentioned in PR contingency plans still working for the organization?
- Have the organizational culture, brand image, or core marketing message changed since the plans were implemented?
- Is there a better way to address the current risks than what’s already planned?
These are only a few of the potential questions to ask when you’re reviewing PR contingency plans. If there’s anything relevant to your specific situation, make sure it’s included in your own review. The point is to create a standardized way to review your plans for relevance and effectiveness.
Being prepared always pays off, especially during crisis situations. One of the best ways to ensure that your organization is ready for whatever might come is contingency planning.
No more relying on reactive decision-making: with different contingency plans, you can provide your organization with a unified response and communicate with the public however you intend to. What’s not to like about that?