5 Steps to a Basic Crisis Communications Plan

Hurricane Katrina
The BP Oil Spill
The Case of Manti Te’o
The Boston Marathon Bombing
The Mattel Lead Paint Incident

Everyone can name a crisis communication gone horribly wrong. The truth is that a simple crisis communications plan can help consolidate your message and keep misinformation from running amok while saving your business a lot of bad press in its market.

Here are 5 steps to a basic crisis communication plan to be prepared in case disaster strikes your business.

Step 1: Risk Assessment

To fully meet your organization’s needs, first you need to assess the gaps in communication. Take some time to research other business’ crisis communications case studies and compare your capabilities.

Some common research done during this process is an employee satisfaction survey or focus group, a client assessment and the history of crisis and near-crisis situations in your office. These will provide a baseline upon which to build your communications plan so it is tailored to your business’ unique needs.

Step 2: Crisis Communications Team

Selecting a crisis communication team is a crucial step in creating an effective communications plan because these will be the people speaking on behalf of the company to the media, investors, employees and so forth in the case of an emergency or other difficult situation.

A typical team should have a few c-level executives, one or two public relations and communications specialists and at least one mid- or entry-level position to represent the everyday employees of your company. Each should have excellent written and verbal communications skills. The crux of your crisis communications team, however, is your spokesperson. Selecting the right spokesperson is key to creating the story of your brand. This person should be comfortable in front of cameras and in interviews.

Step 3: Target Market Analysis

Create a list of key publics for your business. A key public is a distinctive group of people your business needs to keep informed because of their important relationship with you. This can and should include investors, employees, clients, the media, competitors, the surrounding community, the board of directors and any other distinguished groups your business comes into contact with.

After you have this list written down, take the time to list what makes each key public important and distinctive. What is some demographic information about each? How do they want to receive information? What information is most important to them? Once you have a clear concept of each key public, then you may begin creating messages to effectively meet their needs.

Step 4: Key Messaging

Take some time to create messages that will hold the media off without saying “no comment.” These days, telling the media “no comment” essentially says “It’s my fault!” So choosing good key messaging in advance is key to buying you time without inadvertently admitting fault in the media’s eyes.

If were creating a crisis communications plan for a catholic hospital, some of your key messages might be:

“Here at _____, providing top care for our patients is priority number one. No matter the outcome, our team will be choosing a course of action to create a safe atmosphere for our patients and their care providers.”

“______ holds itself to a high standard in agreement with the Catholic faith. We expect all of our employees to conduct themselves likely and will take action to ensure moral and ethical practices on our grounds.”

“_____ is making strides to treat and cure patients of all ailments with our robust medical experimental treatment programs. We choose to meet the needs of our patients on a case-by-case basis instead of a one-size-fits-all format.”

Though these messages may not immediately answer all the questions a hounding reporter may ask your crisis communications team, they are a great way to start a conversation in a positive direction and lead into an answer they need or a no-answer kind of response. Bonus points if you print these on business cards for your team to carry with them at all times. A crisis never strikes when you’re near your desk.

Step 5: Testing

Finally, it is time to train and test your crisis communications team. Do a run-through from start to finish. Pretend you are a hounding reporter and ask your team the tough questions. Draft messages for each of your target markets based on your scenario. Having a good plan in place means more than understanding what needs to be done, it means having experience in advance to more effectively communicate in the case of a crisis.

Of course, this plan is a very bare-bones structure that will need more specific tactics based upon your individual business’ needs. However, even the most basic outline of plans can keep your business from being a cautionary tale.

Have you ever encountered a crisis with your business? What did you do to keep everyone informed? Let us know in the comments down below!

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