A crisis can happen at any time. Whether it’s a natural disaster or a data breach, your business needs to be prepared. Most organizations have logistics-related plans prepared, such as mapping out what to do if a facility cannot be used for a while, but few have plans in place on how to communicate internally and externally when a crisis occurs.
That’s where crisis communication plans come in. The plans serve as a guidebook about what to communicate, to whom and when. This preparedness protects the organization’s reputation, ensures a coordinated response, keeps stakeholders informed and minimizes the negative impact of a crisis.
A crisis can easily damage an organization’s reputation and public image. Having a communications plan and training helps manage and protect the organization’s reputation. No two communication plans are the same. Since every organization is unique, the plan should be designed to meet your needs.
So, what’s all in a crisis communication plan?
- Defines who is part of the crisis communication team, which includes key individuals who are responsible for managing the communications efforts.
- Defines roles, responsibilities and decision-making processes, including establishing escalation procedures, crisis management protocols and clear lines of authority so there’s a coordinated and efficient response.
- Key messages that can be tailored and deployed during a crisis. The messages should provide accurate information, transparency and empathy. They should also be aligned with the organization’s values and address the potential concerns of stakeholders, such as employees, customers and the community.
- Identifies communication channels (email, text messages, news releases or social media) and when and how to use them.
- Identifies spokespeople and provides them with media training.
- Develops internal communications, explaining how to share information with employees about different crises. Organizations should always communicate internally before making any kind of public announcement.
- Discusses how to monitor the media, including social media, to monitor public sentiment.
- Walks through crisis scenarios step-by-step.
“How would you direct your team and respond to the media if a crisis happened? Would your board of directors be prepared?” asked CEO of Innovative Services, Inc. Michael Schwartz. “I wanted to be able to answer these questions, so we engaged O’Connor Connective to help our senior leadership team prepare, and be trained against, a crisis communications plan. It was an important step we needed in our crisis response. O’Connor Connective offered expertise and a wealth of resources. Their process thoroughly prepared the team and strengthened our response.”
This wasn’t the first time Schwartz engaged O’Connor Connective to create a crisis communications plan as the firm prepared Oral Health Partnerships’ crisis communications plan when he served as Executive Director.
A crisis communications plan is a living document. It should be regularly reviewed, updated and tested through simulations and drills to make sure the plan still meets your organization’s needs and mock-scenario responses.
Just as your organization has a logistics plan to deal with crises, it also needs a crisis communication plan to keep all stakeholders accurately informed. It is a lot easier to deal with a crisis when you have a plan in place versus figuring everything out in the moment.
MaryBeth Matzek is the communications manager for O’Connor Connective.