By: Jennifer Erbacher, Principal at Holsapple Communications.
It’s the phone call every business leader dreads. A crisis is taking place, and decisions need to be made immediately.
Who should be notified? What information do you need to give them? Who will respond if the media reaches out? What should you post on your social media platforms?
At Holsapple Communications, we’ve guided our fair share of clients through crises big and small. We’ve seen how quickly situations can change and the speed with which decisions need to be made.
News – especially bad news – travels fast, and every minute counts when a catastrophe happens. That’s why it is critical to have a crisis communications plan ready so you can take swift, effective action.
A crisis communications plan outlines procedures for responding quickly and minimizing damage during an emergency or unexpected event. Preparation is key; it allows you stay calm, be available and not waste time in situations that need to be dealt with immediately.
For example: When a massive fire broke out at the Walmart Distribution Center in Plainfield this spring, it sent smoke across central Indiana, closed local roads and kept fire crews on the scene for more than two days.
Luckily, all of the warehouse’s approximately 1,000 employees were able to escape without injury. But the fire directly impacted a lot of people, including nearby residents, and important information had to be conveyed in a hurry. This is exactly the type of unforeseen event that would trigger a crisis communications plan.
So what does a crisis communications plan do?
- It outlines potential scenarios. We can’t foresee every type of crisis (hello, COVID-19 pandemic) but it’s helpful to think about the types of situations that could arise.
- It names your crisis communications team. A small group of stakeholders will need to be responsible for making decisions, drafting and issuing statements, and communicating important information. Ideally, this group will include a spokesperson who has been media trained.
- It identifies stakeholders who need to be communicated with when a crisis occurs. Who are the relevant parties? The plan should also map out the order in which you communicate with these groups and how, as well as who is responsible for the communication.
- It prepares key messages for responding to a crisis. Even without knowing the exact crisis that will occur, you can prepare draft messages in advance, so they’re ready to adjust quickly when every moment counts. The plan should also determine how you will monitor feedback from stakeholders and the public.
We recently had a business leader contact us to help manage a crisis that was already underway. Our team was able to handle the situation effectively and help lessen the negative media coverage. However, because the client did not have a crisis communications plan in place, it required a lot of scrambling to bring our team up to speed, identify what had already been communicated, develop key messages and create a plan.
If all of this had been done beforehand, the situation would have been less stressful and better managed from the outset.
As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. That’s especially true when it comes to crisis communications.
In an ideal world, your crisis communications plan will never be activated. But won’t you feel better knowing you have one?