Six essential elements of a crisis communication plan

View related articles: Crisis Communications, Earned Media

Crisis communication plans are essential for getting your business to the other side of a disaster. As the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic continues to unfold, communication surrounding its impact is crucial to keeping your stakeholders safe and your business alive.

A crisis of this magnitude has the potential to affect every area of businesses and, unfortunately, some may not recover. Relentless preparation coupled with solid communication gives you the best chance to rebound. If you didn’t have a crisis in place prior to COVID-19, it’s not too late.

We approach plans with six essential elements in mind. Use this guide to create a robust crisis communication plan.

 

Dedicated crisis team
Your crisis team is comprised of a diverse group of key players. Make sure you have everyone’s contact information readily available and determine a contact process and how information will flow throughout the team.

  • Leadership: Leadership is important for holistically assessing how the crisis may impact your organization and its stakeholders.
  • Public relations or communication team: These teams develop and deliver internal and external messages.
  • Legal professional: Someone with a legal background can help identify risk. You also need subject matter experts who can gather data to quickly determine the impact your business may experience.
  • Designated spokesperson: It doesn’t necessarily have to be your CEO, but they should a good public speaker, trustworthy and authentic.

 

Trigger list
Brainstorm all the potential crisis situations your business may experience and prioritize the likelihood of them happening. Some crisis types include financial, personnel, organizational, technological or natural disasters. It’s also important to identify specific scenarios within those types and then train for those situations.

 

Stakeholders and placeholder draft responses
Who needs to hear from you? Customers, employees, investors, vendors and community members are all key audiences to be considered in crisis plans. Messaging should be tailored to each audience. Also consider how they like to receive information and have those means of communication ready to go.

You can create draft responses for specific scenarios so you have a starting point. It’s important to customize your message when a situation arises. Here are a few tips:

  • The tone should be empathetic, authentic, fact-based and transparent.
  • You’ll want to talk about how the crisis is affecting your business and what you are doing to protect your workforce.
  • Offer guidance for how your stakeholders should proceed.
  • Make sure you provide regular communication updates.

 

Activation criteria
How do you know when it is time to activate your crisis plan? You’ll need to work with your crisis team to establish activation criteria and determine if, when and how to respond. Is there an imminent threat to your business? Has the problem caught you off-guard? Are you forced to make hard and fast decisions? If you’re experiencing these three things, it’s very likely it is time to deploy the crisis team.

 

Action plan
Each crisis will require a different course of action, but it’s good to establish some guidelines for how things will play out.

  1. Determine a meeting location for your base of operations.
  2. Once you gather the team, make sure technology is available. Have extra laptops in case people don’t have access.
  3. Choose a designated staging area if you need to hold a press briefing.
  4. Make sure everyone is clear on their responsibilities. For example, assign someone to write and distribute communication on all platforms.
  5. Train your spokesperson on how to navigate media interviews.
  6. Create a protocol for other stakeholders if they are approached by media.

 

Asset development
Within your plan, it’s important to have as many assets readily available as possible. Here’s a list of things to include:

  • Crisis response team contact information: Include name, titles, office phone number, cell phone number and email address.
  • A message matrix with your placeholder draft responses: It should include your audience, what they need to know, how they get the information, key messages and proof points, who’s responsible for getting the information and timing.
  • Media protocol: Include instructions for people if they’re contacted by the media.
  • Media training tips: Have guidelines at the ready to remind the spokesperson how to successfully navigate an interview.
  • Documents and templates: Prepare a template for the press release, emails to employees and customers, talking points, a media prep doc, and FAQs.

 

Crisis communication plans ensure you get information to stakeholders quickly and consistently on all communication channels. Recent projections indicate we’ll be feeling the effects of COVID-19 for a while. If you don’t already have one, now is a smart time to get a crisis communication plan in place. We’re happy to help – contact us today.