5 steps to craft a crisis communications plan

Being prepared for an online firestorm or PR disaster can mean the difference between a destroyed reputation or your organization’s ability to bounce back. Follow this advice.

PR crises are all over the news lately.

United’s series of stumbles comes to mind immediately. (A quick search of the hashtag #PRnightmare produces United’s profile as the first listing.) After the initial disaster, the focus quickly becomes, “How is the company handling post-crisis communication?” For United, in one word: poorly.

Of course, during everyday business, the last thing you’re thinking about is drafting an extensive plan for a hypothetical disaster as your company grows.

You know what you really don’t want to do? Manage a crisis without a plan.

Fifty-nine percent of business decision-makers have experienced a crisis in their current or previous company, and 79 percent believe they could suffer one in the next 12 months,according to ODM Group.

Though you might not be able to anticipate the full extent of a hypothetical crisis, you can ease anxiety and manage the crisis more efficiently—should one strike—by crafting a plan.

Collaborate on these five helpful exercises to develop your company’s crisis communication plan:

1. Create core messaging and brand voice. If you haven’t established your company’s brand voice, start there. Then, work on your mission statement, vision statement and core values as a team. When things get sticky and a crisis arises, these elements will help you craft better messaging overall.

2. Identify the crisis communications team. Is someone on your team a natural social media master? Which team member can handle media relations? Who’s the best at communicating with investors? Who is going to ensure that all communications are consistent and appropriately timed? Who is the company’s spokesperson? Answer these questions, and build the right team to tackle crisis communications head on.

3. Discuss potential crises. Review relevant case studies of past crises, then brainstorm all the crises that could affect your organization. Discuss each at length, staying focused on solutions: Who needs to know what—and when—and how will you inform them?

4. Identify audiences and communication vehicles. Which groups of people will be affected by a potential crisis, and what’s the best way to reach them? Get specific.

5. Practice. Invest in media training, and develop messaging for each potential crisis. Practice your interview skills, and be prepared to answer a variety of questions that may be thrown at you.

Yes, creating a crisis communications plan is an investment, but your future mid-crisis self will thank you. Plus, creating this crisis plan could shed light on communications methods that need improvement in your organization.

This valuable team-building exercise also helps you establish your organization’s core messaging, vision and mission. Even if you never face the crisis you’ve planned for, your brand and communication team will ultimately benefit.

Rachel Wright is a communications specialist for SSPR.

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