Crisis Communications Plan Basics

Preparation:

  • Honest assessment of vulnerabilities.
  • Identify your company’s critics. What are their gripes?
  • Work to address legitimate complaints through substantive change. Address misunderstandings with direct conversations supported by facts. Don’t argue; persuade.
  • Game out several variants of a crisis specific to your company. Develop a simple but thorough action plan for each major type of foreseeable crisis.
  • Assign responsibilities/backups. All company locations included and connected.
  • Obtain full support of facing organizations (legal, customer service, engineering, etc.) including identifying responsible go-to people who can be contacted after-hours.
  • Conduct an audit of readiness including dry runs. Understand you are never truly ready.
  • Monitor Twitter, Facebook, blogs, bulletin boards, etc. for early warning signs.

Execution in Crisis:

  • Immediately assess situation. Separate what you know to be true from speculation. Understand that much of what you think you know now will prove to be incorrect or only partially true.
  • Acknowledge the problem/situation in a simple statement, promising frequent updates as more is known.
  • Don’t try to hide or cover up anything.
  • Stick to the facts. Don’t speculate. Assure media you will provide facts as they become known.
  • Keep media confined to one briefing area and make it clear where they are allowed/not allowed to go. Do not allow media to compromise safety, rescue, etc. nor allow them to see/photograph accident scenes before authorities give go-ahead and you are ready.
  • Hold frequent briefings, including a central conference call number that stays same throughout crisis. You’re less likely to be over-whelmed by on-site media if you provide good access via phone and web.
  • Post statements immediately to your media, customer and employee websites. Direct all remote media, including citizen media, to your media site promising frequent updates as facts are known.
  • Remind media not to report speculation. Monitor coverage in real time and correct misinformation.
  • Single spokesperson is best. If scope of the crisis necessitates more than one spokesperson, pull communications team together frequently (taking a time out from responding to media), to compare notes on tone/type of questions and to assure consistent answers.
  • Maintain a constant rotation of at least one media relations person (but not the spokesperson) in media holding area at all times to respond to legitimate needs (but not to comment further between regular briefings) and to keep pulse on mood and disposition of the media pack.
  • Keep non-authorized employees away from media during crisis.
  • Maintain feedback loops to central crisis team and company headquarters, especially if multiple sites are involved.
  • Make sure you have enough people and that all are holding up. People react differently to stress. Don’t hesitate to replace/rest someone who appears to be cracking/freezing, etc.
  • Keeping legal concerns in mind, express empathy/condolences as appropriate.