In the wake of the recent hurricanes, earthquakes and wildfires devastating communities worldwide, many businesses, government agencies and nonprofits are reflecting on their crises plans. Any business, at some point, will face some sort of public relations crisis and the response can either benefit or significantly damage the brand. Aside from natural disasters, there is a wide variety of different types of crisis situations that a business can face such as technological failures, workplace violence, confrontation (boycotts, lawsuits), malevolence and organizational misdeeds, among others. Regardless of the situation, it’s a good practice to have a plan in place in the event of an emergency. Consider the following components when developing a crisis plan:
Work to identify potential scenarios that could occur at your organization. In some cases, you will know a crisis will occur because you’re planning to create disruption, such as a major acquisition or employee layoffs. Consider outlining scenario action plans for anticipated crises, recognizing that the plans will serve as a framework because specific circumstances of a given event will always drive the actions taken by the company.
In the event of an emergency, swift, accurate and controlled communication – delivered with transparency and sensitivity during the initial hours and days following the incident – is crucial. The tone for coverage around any issue is usually set by the first few stories that break within 24 hours following an incident. Responding quickly with accurate, factual information can help manage a story in a favorable direction.
Establish roles and responsibilities
While each situation will involve unique facts and circumstances, it is important to have a general protocol in place before such an event occurs to ensure a swift and well-managed response. Components to consider when developing a protocol include:
- Identifying the appropriate crisis response team and establish a chain of command
- Assigning a lead spokesperson/spokespeople
- Communicating clear direction for employees, who may be contacted by media, about who is authorized to comment on the situation
- Disseminating approved messages and materials to key stakeholders
- Following up with key stakeholders, including the media, as more details are confirmed
Managing media relations
Depending on the circumstance, issuing a statement to the press may apply. This statement could take shape as a media statement for newswire distribution, a press conference, or digital publication such as website and social media channels. Regardless of the delivery mechanism, developing template talking points and media responses will ensure effective information communication.
Establish notification and monitoring systems
It is absolutely essential, pre-crisis, to establish notification systems that will allow you to rapidly reach your stakeholders using multiple modalities. If you use more than one modality to reach your stakeholders, the chances are much greater that the message will go through.
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. Likewise, monitoring feedback from all stakeholders during a crisis situation allows you to accurately adapt your strategy and tactics.
Aftermath and analysis
In the week(s) following the incident, the crisis planning team should reconvene to review any new details that have surfaced about the incident and determine if additional outreach may be needed. Conducting an analysis of the particular scenario, process and execution will also identify adjustments that can be made to inform future crisis response efforts.
Effective and accurate communication with the media and external audiences following a serious incident or emergency can help build media and general public confidence that the company has responded in an appropriate manner. It is imperative that organizations be prepared to respond to an emergency or other serious incident with a communications plan that can be implemented quickly to minimize potential adverse effects.