Why this is the year to create a crisis communications plan, or update the one you have
Ready or not, a crisis is likely coming to your organization. Even the most organized and successful will eventually encounter some negative public perception. That’s why it’s important to be ready for anything. For example, cyberattacks are more frequent and sophisticated than ever before and will come out of nowhere, quickly putting immense stress on your organization. Is your company ready to respond, and does everyone on the team know what their role is? Another example – experts are predicting a possible recession in 2023. Is your organization prepared to weather the storms that may come from it? From revenue shortfalls to office closures and workforce layoffs – are your internal and external communications plans in place?
Findings from a crisis communications survey conducted in part by PRNEWS and released in February 2020 revealed that 62 percent of responding organizations are prepared with a crisis plan. Of those who said they have a plan, less than half said their plan is up to date, and only a quarter of those surveyed said their crisis plan was “well known” to all members of the crisis management team.
A crisis is a major event with a potentially negative outcome possibly affecting an entire organization, its publics, products, services, and reputation. You might see it coming or it could be unexpected – either way, it could prevent a company or organization performing its mission, short term or for years to come.
The best crisis communications plan is one you hope you never have to use, but it’s one that can guide you in the right direction quickly. It’s honest, actionable, and easy to adapt for any situation. The strategy will include action items for every stage of the response – pre-crisis, crisis, response, and post-crisis – and allow you to react swiftly and appropriately. It will help you reduce the momentum of the bad news, gain control the narrative, and shorten the news cycle.
So – you want to survive your next crisis. Now what?
These are the common denominators for deploying a successful response:
Simply acknowledging that you need a plan puts you ahead of the game. The planning process is tedious, but critical for identifying what could go wrong, assessing the parts of the organization that could be impacted, and creating a blueprint for the response. That blueprint includes details on who will take the lead and how everyone else within the organization should follow. It helps identify key members of your response team, which could include the CEO or head of the organization, a communications executive, legal counsel, as well as one or more internal or external subject matter experts with a unique understanding of the specific crisis at hand.
Rehearse crisis scenarios and your responses regularly and be sure to revisit and update those responses at least once a year. This will ensure that your real-life reaction feels natural and is delivered genuinely. The saying “the more you sweat in practice, the less you bleed in battle” holds true with crisis communications. Companies who practice for an emergency will feel better prepared and more cohesive as a team when one finally happens. And don’t forget that every good team has a great coach. Utilize professional media trainers who know how to speak to reporters and can help you deliver your key messages effectively and eloquently. While it is the responsibility of journalists to get it right, it’s also your responsibility to make sure they can’t get it wrong. Media training teaches you to be ready to respond in an articulate manner without any room for misinterpretation.
How an organization reacts to a breaking situation, particularly in the first 24 hours, can prevent it from becoming a full-blown crisis. But this can be a highly emotional and sometimes impossible task for an organization’s dedicated leadership team. That’s why professional crisis communicators should be brought in to help execute your plan. Ideally, it’s the same team that helped create the plan and helped you practice. This team will be able to quickly guide you on when and how to respond, and provide the reassurance your team needs to proceed with confidence and conviction when faced with questions like:
Crises are too critical to leave to chance. Handled properly, a crisis can be an opportunity to improve or strengthen your image in the long term. All of this is with the understanding that even the best and most detailed crisis communication plan is simply that – a plan. It’s meant to help you get through those first few hectic minutes or hours. After that, lean on your team of trusted crisis communication experts, who will guide you through the days, weeks, and months ahead.
The Martin Group recommends a semi-annual review of your crisis communications plan. Our seasoned team of experts can help your organization produce or update an existing proactive crisis plan, quickly respond to a crisis in progress, analyze the public response, and manage the long-term impact. We understand how to properly communicate messages to the right audiences by leveraging trusted relationships with media, elected officials, and community and online influencers. We employ industry-leading research, media relations, and digital strategies to help clients navigate issues while delivering actionable results and crafting a plan for the future. In addition, The Martin Group offers custom media and communications training for individuals and groups of all sizes. These sessions include classroom training, key message development, and on-camera mock interviews with long-term follow up support. Our training team consists of veteran public relations and public affairs professionals, award-winning former journalists, past political aides, and rising PR stars – all who understand the importance of a quick and effective response.