kim waltman fullcircle creative + coaching crisis communications blog

Is your company prepared to handle communications in case of a crisis?

If not, it’s time to prepare. A crisis may feel unlikely, but discussing an action plan now and developing messaging can help you minimize damage right away.

What exactly is a crisis? It’s any situation that is threatening or could threaten to harm people or property, seriously interrupt business, significantly damage reputation and/or negatively impact your bottom line. Crises result from a variety of circumstances, but it’s usually brought on by adverse media attention, such as a legal dispute, accident, or manmade disaster. It could also be a situation where the media or general public feels your company did not react to one of these situations appropriately.

Why you should plan ahead

The key to crises is that handled correctly, damage can be minimized. That's telling it all, telling it fast, and telling the truth. Perception is everything. One poorly managed crisis has the power to undo all the positive perceptions of a company literally in one fell swoop. Negative perceptions may  take years to alter and requires time, energy, and resources needed for daily business function.

A thorough crisis communication plan allows your company to protect brand image and ensure you remain the top resource for information about the crisis until it subsides.

How to Plan for a Crisis

Step 1: Recognize that crises can happen to any business and if it happens, it's not simple to handle without a plan in place.

Realizing these points puts you in a better place to strategically devise a step-by-step playbook to act calmly under the pressure of a crisis.

Step 2: Outline who, what, when, where, why, and how your company will respond.

During times of misfortune, many variables are in play. An organized, strategic approach gets you one step closer to handling the situation with grace, style, and productivity.

Identify the following:

  • Who makes up crisis communication team members, spokespersons, and stakeholders
  • How to train spokespersons
  • How stakeholders will be notified
  • How to handle media inquiries and monitor news coverage
  • Holding statements (statements released between time of crises and the appropriate release of details)
  • Message strategies and channels to deliver them
  • How to analyze the crisis after the fact, including what was learned as to what went well, what went poorly, and what you could do better

The first concerns a company should address are sharing accurate information as soon as it’s available and spreading it among diverse, dependable and manageable formats. For example, news conferences are often held because it’s an effective and efficient way to reach a large number of media outlets.

Keep in mind the role media—particularly social outlets—play in disseminating news. The faster you can establish your company as a reliable source for accurate and timely information, the more likely the media and other audiences are to trust your company spokesperson.

Overall, while your plan will be structured, it’s important to remain flexible and run with the ebb and flow of any crisis situation.

Flexibility in crises empowers a company to control the chaos rather than fall victim to the situation. Making a commitment to be proactive rather than reactive sets the crisis communications team up to successfully manage whatever evolves.

Step 3: Review and update your plan annually

Gather company leadership on a yearly basis to go through your crisis communications plan and ensure it remains your best blueprint to adequately handle unfortunate events. If you collaborate with an outside communications consultant on business matters, include them in this task as well.

Who manages crisis communications plan development? 

A public relations professional is the ideal team member to oversee crisis communication efforts. Having previous experience with crisis communications is beneficial although not required to do well in this role.

If your company doesn't have a public relations professional on staff, work with an outside consultant to bring that knowledge to the table, including crises knowhow and media relationships. Having additional hands, minds and bodies is priceless when there is a lot to accomplish on top of regular (normal) day-to-day tasks. An outside party’s objectivity can also be a calming presence during the crisis-related chaos.

Who to reach with your plan

While audiences impacted by a crisis vary based on the industry and company, consider those who would be directly impacted by your company’s ability to do business during such an event.

Examples of audiences to plan for include:

  • Employees, including management, staff members, families, union members, and retirees
  • Communities where employees live, neighborhood coalitions, community organizations, plant locations, and chambers of commerce
  • Customers
  • Distributors, wholesalers, retailers, and consumers
  • Suppliers, teaming partners, competitors, professional societies, subcontractors, joint ventures and trade associations
  • Media members
  • Trustees, regents, directors, financial supporters, students, prospects, administration, faculty and staff, and alumni
  • Analysts - buy and sell side, institutional holders, shareholders, bankers - commercial and investment, stock brokers, portfolio managers, potential investors
  • Legislative, regulatory, executive, and judicial
  • Special Interests
  • Environmental, safety, handicapped/disabled, minority, think tanks, consumer, health, senior citizens, and religious.

Using these steps and strategies, your company can work now to be ready when negative events arise. Have any questions regarding your crisis communications plan? Don’t hesitate to reach out.