Crisis Communication Planning Shouldn’t Create the Same Dread as Pushups
Our clients tell us they postpone crisis communications planning because they don’t have time, and they’re not sure where to start. I think that stems from the belief that the process will be daunting — a little like going to the gym. Once you’ve completed a workout, you’re happy that you went, but getting there takes discipline and fortitude. And of course, you can see the results over time.
That same dedication and preparation pays off in crisis communications. Organizations that periodically complete crisis planning are able to respond much faster during a crisis. And speed is everything. Once information about an incident is leaked, the clock is no longer your friend with our 24/7 news cycle. If the crisis is mentioned on social media, plan on a reporter, customer, partner or investor calling with questions within minutes. Companies typically wait to get their messaging out because they want to get it right and in the first minutes or hours after a crisis, they don’t have all the information, or they don’t know what or how much to say. The chart below shows how quickly issues escalate, and companies that delay get behind the curve when others take control of the narrative around the crisis.
If planning is your biggest hurdle, we’ve developed a quick process to give you a jump start.
Consider the top 3 most likely crisis scenarios that could impact your business and reputation. The possibilities are depressingly endless, but whether it’s a disaster that prevents service delivery or halts productivity, a data breach or internal errors, or fraud or misconduct, it’s important to identify those crisis situations that would be most likely for your company.
Create key messages that are meaningful to your company, articulate your values and have some evergreen quality (i.e. about standards of conduct, putting people first, care of sensitive data or protection of the environment). Next, create messages that address your top 3 most likely crisis scenarios. Additional messages about not having all the facts, but addressing what you are doing can be incredibly valuable. While these won’t be the messages you’ll use verbatim in a real crisis, they get the team thinking and discussing during the planning process and those pre-conversations with your leadership team are as important as the resulting decisions. Not being on the same page wastes time in those first few precious hours after a crisis.
Determine who the spokesperson would be in different crisis scenarios. Consider credibility and relatability with diverse audiences when you determine who the best person for the job is. Make sure that person is comfortable making statements, providing interviews and handling tough questions. Feeling confident to deliver statements and updates comes with training and experience, so prepping ahead of a crisis is one of the best ways to ensure that spokesperson represents your company as transparent, prepared and responsive.
With a little practice and commitment, your organization will be more comfortable addressing tough issues in times of crisis. Just like that first pushup or lap around the track gets easier with time, everything you invest in crisis preparation will make you stronger, more flexible and up to the challenge.