If this year has taught us anything, it’s to expect the unexpected. Business as usual has become business in crisis. Things happen, and it’s best to be prepared. At Balzac, we have 30 years of wine industry experience and have seen a thing or two. It’s like those Farmer’s Insurance commercials. We’ve just about seen it all, though even we weren’t prepared for COVID-19. So, the question you may wish to ask yourself is, “are we prepared?”
This is where a well thought-out crisis communications plan comes in handy. Let me give you a specific example… recently we had a client who had a workplace accident. None of us ever want that to happen, but sooner or later it will. While we had discussed the importance of a crisis communications plan, the management never got around to pulling the trigger. So, when the incident happened, they had to wing it. It worked out in the end, but they would have saved themselves a whole lot of panicked calls and emergency meetings.
The Crisis Communications Plan
A crisis communications plan anticipates what issues might arise and puts systems in place to respond to them. Who should be notified? What actions need to be taken? What statement will you make to the press or community? Who is going to give it? Who is the spokesperson? The backup? What follow up actions will be necessary? Do you have a PR agency on retainer to help? All of these things are addressed in a good crisis communications plan.
This is something we do for our forward-thinking clients. By have a plan in place before a crisis arrives, they are more nimble, can respond quickly, and know that there is a trusted process in place. Here are 15 things you should consider when putting together a crisis communications plan:
- Set goals – Determine the objectives of the plan.
- Audit vulnerability – Conduct a risk assessment to identify current and potential areas of operational weakness and system flaws that could lead to, or exacerbate, crisis.
- Identify and know your stakeholders – Who are the internal and external stakeholders that matter to your organization?
- Create example scenarios – When a crisis does happen, you will likely feel overwhelmed. Providing an outline of common scenarios in advance makes things easier.
- Designate crisis communications team – A small team of senior executives should be identified to serve as the organization’s Crisis Communications Team.
- Identify and train spokespeople – All organizational spokespeople during a crisis situation must have the right skills, the right position, and the right training. A spokesperson is not necessarily a member of the Crisis Communications Team.
- Spokesperson training – Conduct training, so that spokespeople will understand the critical differences between proactive PR, which focuses on promoting your organization, and crisis communications, which focuses on preserving your organization.
- Create fact sheets – Develop a template for fact sheets. Fact sheets are lists of known facts pertaining to the crisis. They prevent rumors or misinterpretations from spreading to media outlets. Identify who writes them. Depending on the crisis, you may need them within 24 hours, six hours, or even 30 minutes.
- Establish notification and monitoring systems – Establish notification systems that will allow you to rapidly reach your stakeholders using multiple means. Intelligence gathering is an essential component of both crisis prevention and crisis response. Knowing what’s being said about you on social media, in traditional media, by your employees, customers, and other stakeholders often allows you to catch a negative “trend” that, if unchecked, turns into a crisis.
- Develop holding statements – While full message development must await the outbreak of an actual crisis, “holding statements,” messages designed for use immediately after a crisis breaks, should be developed in advance to be used for a wide variety of scenarios to which the organization is perceived to be vulnerable.
- Identify and answer common questions – Identify and answer questions that you can expect to be asked during your crisis scenarios. For instance, if a natural disaster strikes your headquarters, some questions you may get asked are, “Was anyone injured in the incident?” and “How long will it take for the business to return to normal functionality?
- Create guidelines specific to social media – Focus on social monitoring during a time of crisis. Any negative social media mentions should be dealt with immediately and with consistency.
- Crisis assessment – If you’ve done all of the above first, it’s a “simple” matter of having the Crisis Communications Team on the receiving end of information coming in from your team members, ensuring the right type of information is being provided, so you can proceed with determining the appropriate response.
- Finalize and adapt key messages – With holding statements available as a starting point, the Crisis Communications Team should continue developing the crisis-specific messages required for any given situation.
- Post-crisis analysis – Develop a formal process to analyze what was done right, what was done wrong, what could be done better next time and how to improve various elements of crisis preparedness.
Yes, crisis communications takes some work. It requires many hours, meetings, and budget. Consider, however, the cost of NOT having a crisis communications plan. What is that worth to you? Think of it as another insurance policy you carry to protect yourselves, your employees, and your business. Hiring a professional agency like Balzac Communications can help.