Why You Need to Have a Crisis Communications Plan in Place 

Let’s prepare in advance, so we’re ready should a crisis befall our organization.

2017 has proven to be anything but quiet for the field of crisis communications.

With major brands from Pepsi to United finding themselves in hot water, the crises this year have shined a spotlight on why planning ahead for one of these scenarios is so important. It brings a new appreciation for what crisis communications and PR pros do. If we can take any lessons from these situations, it’s that EVERY business really needs to have a plan in place in the event of a crisis.

[Editorial note: What is Public Relations? A Comprehensive PR Guide]

When you think about your business, can you anticipate a crisis that might arise? An inappropriate social media post or tweet. A mishandling of a situation with a customer. A public safety issue. And the list goes on. The truth is that anything can happen at any time.

And with social media, news travels fast—be it good or bad. The last thing you want is to allow a situation to fester without a response directly from you. This can make a bad scenario worse.

So what can we do?

If we plan ahead and proactively think through crises that might befall our businesses, we can be much better prepared to handle these situations appropriately.

Let’s take United as an example. They had the biggest PR crisis of the year (so far) when a passenger was dragged off an overbooked flight. The response from the public was swift—and furious. The airline quickly found itself in the midst of a major public backlash.

But, the way United handled it helped feed the fire. Given, the video of the incident was undeniably horrific. There was no way around that. However, the way the brand reacted could’ve used some serious reworking.

Had the airline apologized immediately and taken steps to help make the situation right, the backlash might have been far less in magnitude. Instead, it took three attempts to get it right. By then, the damage had been done.

On the other hand, we have Adidas. When they made a misstep by sending an inappropriate email regarding the Boston marathon (“Congrats, you survived the Boston Marathon”), they were quick to admit the mistake and apologize, taking full responsibility for the incident and not making excuses.

So, what’s the lesson here? Of course, we’re not all United. But, are we in denial about the odds that we’ll find our businesses in the midst of a crisis? If so, let’s not bury our heads in the sand. This only makes us look guilty—even if it was a simple misunderstanding that caused the issue.

Getting out in front of the story before it blows up is in your best interest. The way to do that is to be prepared. Have a plan, even if it’s a simple one. What will you say? Who will say it? What other steps will you take? Think through the possible scenarios. Talk through it with your communications team.

What’s the old saying—“Forewarned is forearmed?” There is no excuse in today’s world to NOT be ready for the worst. The past year has shown us that even if we believe the worst can’t happen—it can. And sometimes does.

Will you be ready?