As the COVID-19 pandemic reminds, you don’t want to be left scrambling to execute a well-structured crisis communication plan when the unexpected strikes. Whether you find yourself needing to frantically put a plan together or have the luxury of planning for potential future crises, we’ve outlined the key elements to get you on track.
But first, it’s important to understand that a crisis communication plan is not the same as a business continuity plan: the latter ensures personnel and assets are protected and able to function during a crisis, while the former is designed to inform all stakeholders of essential information and next steps in a rapid yet comprehensive fashion.
Recognizing that people will be reading your plan in high-stress situations, you should therefore endeavor to keep it as simple, brief, and easy-to-read as possible, avoiding dense text and delivering what’s crucial.
Here are the key ingredients of a crisis communication plan that accomplishes this goal, regardless of the situation:
1.) The Plan Itself
While “planning to plan” may sound redundant, the crisis plan must begin with a clear explanation of its purpose, when/why the plan will be used, who can activate it, and an outline of key steps regarding internal and external communications.
2.) The Team
Identify the various executives and department heads who will comprise the crisis team, as well as their specific roles. For instance, determine which individual will field media inquiries, serve as a spokesperson, manage internal communications, and serve as backups. The plan should include each member’s contact info, including cell numbers.
While you can’t predict every scenario, it’s worthwhile to draft contingency messaging that can be used in a variety of potential predicaments. These messages should address the cause, description, timeline and next steps (remember, no over-promising!). Similarly, anticipate questions you are likely to field from the media and other stakeholders. To keep the plan clean and simple, it’s appropriate to include full messaging drafts in an appendix. Lastly, be sure to include a point person and a procedure to proactively monitor the news and social media channels throughout the crisis.
4.) Internal communications protocols
Remember that your employees should be the first group to receive updates. In this section, stipulate what channels you will use to reach your staff (staff meeting, text chain, email, video message, etc.). Also, remind employees of your social media policies as well as steps to take should they be contacted by the media.
5.) Important Contacts
You won’t want to waste precious time digging up key contact information during a crisis. With this in mind, compile a list of any vendors, government offices, police/fire departments, or other emergency organizations you may need to contact. It’s also wise to gather and include contact information for key media and bloggers with whom you’ll want to potentially share a statement.
As promised, this is a clever solution to keep the plan streamlined. This section should house text-heavy materials such as messaging drafts, checklists, bios, FAQs, fact sheets, a press release template, etc. And be sure to index them for easy reference – it will be well worth the effort if and when a crisis hits!
As you work through these elements, here are some other important considerations:
- Remember – inform your employees and other internal folks first!
- Your website will be vital in conveying updates to the public and media – you may want to create a templated beta or ghost landing page that will be easy to populate and activate when needed. You should also plan out where you’d want to post key updates on the homepage.
- If any of your identified spokespeople need media training, consider conducting a session now so all that’s required in the time of crisis is a quick refresher.
- In today’s environment, social media will play a pivotal role in a crisis response. Be sure to include protocols and messaging for your social channels (and pull any scheduled content as needed!).
- A good communication plan may be at odds with your legal team’s instinct to avoid comment. Good communication requires transparency and proactivity, so be sure you work with your legal counsel to create messaging that satisfies both parties.
- During a crisis, consider documenting the plan execution along the way – this is an excellent opportunity to track what worked and what didn’t, then identify pain points and other key learnings that you can apply next time.
While a crisis won’t always be as obvious as a global pandemic, addressing these elements will ensure you’re prepared to respond to most situations in a quick, organized, efficient manner.
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