Crisis management and what to consider in your plan

I recently spoke at an event about how important a crisis management plan was and how a crisis comms plan should be part of the strategy.

crisis management plan

Image credit: Daily Express

Why? Well let’s say you don’t have a crisis management plan and you’ve not even considered how you’d communicate in a crisis, how will that impact on your business? If it’s not handled correctly, as we’ve seen with brands such as Pepsi and Ryan Air, you’ll not only damage reputation, but the impact will be on the bottom line.

I wanted to write a post which would help advise how to write and inform a crisis management plan, integrating public relations and communications.

In crisis situations your public relations aim is to be factual, responsive/timely, proactive, ethical and honest. In addition, empathetic to those affected.

#1 Crisis management takes place before a crisis hits

Before a crisis takes place, there can often be triggers or signs of issues which can lead to a crisis. Identifying these in advance is key to avoiding a crisis or minimising the impact.

In addition, a solid crisis management and communications plan will help you effectively handle the crisis and move towards protecting and repairing reputation.

#2 Know your risks

Shopping centres, through health and safety requirements, will have risk assessments. This is a good place to start. If you know your risks, you can then start to think of how you’d respond if one of the risks turned into a crisis.

For example, I helped run a 24/7 press office for a roads maintenance company and the risks involved went from cancellation of road maintenance in a small village to death of a road worker or a road traffic accident. We had plans based on smaller incidents through to escalations for major incidents and how we’d work with the emergency services.

In addition to the general risk assessments you may already have through health and safety, also consider terror attacks, a crisis on social media, what activities take place such as live events, events with kids and animals etc…

#3 Develop a scenario plan

Your crisis management scenario plan can be as simple or as complicated as you like but the more you think and plan just now, the more prepared you’ll be.  Using the risks you’ve identified you should set out the scenarios and how you’d respond to each from a practical perspective – this isn’t solely a comms job, this is the entire management and leadership team’s responsibility.

You could lay it out with headings in a table: Scenario – Alert – Response Public – Response Staff – Emergency Services – Timings…

This leads nicely into writing your crisis management and communications plan.

#4 Write your crisis management plan and how you will communicate effectively

Consider the following as preparation:

  • Identify influencers and stakeholders
  • Conduct an audit of all communications (or get someone like me to do it for you. An independent audit could be more constructive)
  • What are the lines of communication?
  • Who is essential for approvals/liaison? Remember, time is everything. A slick process of approvals is essential.
  • Who will be in the crisis comms team? It doesn’t have to be just comms people. There will be others including duty manager, customer service manager and operations manager. If you need advice on how to form a crisis comms team, get in touch and we can this further. If you don’t have a comms person or team, then you’ll need expert advice
  • Is the spokesperson media trained? If you ever have to put someone in front of a camera during a time of crisis, they absolutely have to be media trained and be representative of the brand.
  • Establish notification and monitoring procedures/systems. If you know the risks and have developed scenarios, are there any early warning procedures you can put in place via the likes of social media monitoring, specific systems integrated in your building etc?
  • Develop holding statements – ready to be adapted. You know your scenarios and who is involved and what the responses might look like. Now plan what media statements you’d release in the event of a crisis and if they’d be proactive, reactive, adapated per audience etc.

Channels to consider:

  • Social media
  • Role of media
  • Citizen journalists
  • Community reaction
  • Face-to-face
  • Internal audience

#5 Test the plan and rehearse

Once you’ve got your plan together, which will take every business, geographical location, assets, staff etc into consideration, you need to test your plan, rehearsing the scenarios and ensuring it’s as water tight as it can be. If you look at air stewards, they go through hefty safety tests and rehearsals to ensure they know exactly what to do, say and how to act in times of crisis.

This all sounds rather scary, but let’s look at the flip side. If you don’t do any crisis management planning and you don’t consider all the different methods of communication, you could leave yourself and your business extremely vulnerable to many different types of crisis and disasters.

Don’t make your company front page of the news for the worst reasons. Research. Plan. Prepare. Rehearse and Repeat.

If you need to talk to me about working with you on your crisis management plan, particularly the integration of communications, please do get in touch.

You may also be interested in my 1-2-1 consultancy services, including phone counsel and consultancy days.

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