Crisis Communications 101: Have a Plan to Stay Ready
As a Public Relations practitioner, I whole-heartedly subscribe to the mantra: "If you stay ready, you don't have to get ready." In a nutshell, this popular saying encourages the individual to be prepared for anything that life may throw his/her way. From my perspective, when you are "ready," you can fully embrace an experience by seizing a perfect opportunity to rise to the occasion and handle things flawlessly. We know that life happens quickly especially when it comes to a crisis situation and being prepared is a must.
One aspect of the overall services that I offer my clients is the creation of a Crisis Communications Plan for their business. Waiting until a crisis situation happens that can affect your company's bottom line, reputation, and brand is NOT the best time to create a plan.
Oftentimes, companies scramble to hire a communications professional to run interference against a flood of negative publicity during a crisis situation. That is reactionary which places the company at an immediate disadvantage. It's similar to playing catchup to put out fires everywhere and that is not a comfortable position to be in. Instead, I recommend companies take a proactive approach. Work with a public relations professional to create a customized Crisis Communications Plan. This document should be in place BEFORE the worst case scenario happens.
A Crisis Communications Plan isn't just for knowing what to say when an emergency situation happens. The plan should focus on what key communication strategies need to be implemented before, during, and after a crisis situation.
Here are the three basic stages of a Crisis Communications Plan:
Preparation - Determine who will be the official spokesperson for the company. Be comfortable utilizing the tools necessary to effectively communicate during a crisis.
Response - When a crisis occurs, respond immediately. Stay on message. Develop key message points about the crisis and your company's response to the situation.
Recovery - After the crisis is over, conduct an after-crisis review and implement any corrective action as needed.
Unfortunately, none of us can predict when and how a crisis will occur, but it is imperative that you have a plan in place to help navigate how your company will respond from a communications standpoint.
I have years of experience managing communications during several crisis situations when I worked as the Public Information Officer for two public school districts. I can tell you that none of the emergency situations were alike. The crisis situations ranged from wildfire conditions to the tragic death of a student. What I can tell you is that the methods and procedures I used to communicate with the public, media, parents, teachers, and staff during each crisis situation remained the same. I had a Crisis Communications Plan in place and I knew which steps to follow in order to effectively (and successfully) communicate with our stakeholders who demanded transparency and honesty.
I have seen many companies fumble when it comes to effectively communicating during a crisis situation. That could have been avoided by being prepared. Establishing two-way conversations with your customers or clients before a crisis situation even occurs helps to build loyalty which will prove helpful in the long run. Be sure to listen and respond to any concerns in a timely manner and utilize best practices when it comes to communications. I am here to help.