How To Create A Crisis Communications Plan For Your Business

Shana Harris

Not so long ago, word-of-mouth and media coverage used to be the common channels for crisis communication. With the explosion of digital technologies and social media as essential business communications channels, expectations have changed.

Today, customers and stakeholders alike expect transparency and immediate responses — snail mail and phone calls simply doesn’t cut it in a world dominated by Google, Twitter and Facebook, IG, YouTube, etc. Information – whether positive or negative — spreads faster than companies can create and disseminate it. In a crisis situation, it’s important for companies to be proactive and prepared for when a real crisis occurs.

How To Handle A Crisis Communication Situation

Emotions invariably play a central role in any crisis event – and fear is often what is behind every crisis. In these situations, fear is in essence the kindling effect – all it does is feed the fire of a crisis situation.

While crisis events can be tense and emotional times, it’s essential to remember to address the issue head on (to the extent you can legally) and resist the temptation to avoid it whenever possible. Remember to show your emotions and be sincere – your audience will be more likely to empathize with you and appropriate displays of emotion will humanize your business.

Creating A Crisis Plan: The Best Defense is a Good Offense

Having a strong offense is the best way to prepare for any crisis. How do you prepare?

  • Build a strong brand reputation
  • Create a crisis plan and conduct drills to make sure you are prepared
  • Have key messages created and approved in advance for probable situations so you can act quickly
  • Make sure you actively communicate with your significant audiences on a regular basis so you have a strong track record of engaging with them
  • Be a good corporate citizen and build strong relationships with key constituents
  • Don’t wait for a crisis situation to be the first time you communicate with important audiences

Identifying A Business Crisis Situation

It’s important to be able to identify when something is a crisis and when it is NOT. Know the different phases of a crisis and how to respond in each phase to effectively prepare for a crisis situation. People can actually make things worse when responding to something when it is not a “real crisis”. One of the best ways to start is by creating levels for different types of crisis situations and appropriate responses for each.

Level 1 Crisis
Not a crisis yet, but requires continuous, careful monitoring to ensure that it does not become one.

Level 2 Crisis
The situation has escalated, but only directly impacts a small audience. In this situation, your priority should be to quickly communicate with the affected group(s) to resolve the situation.

Level 3 Crisis
Represents a full-blown crisis that impacts a large group of customers has the potential to severely damage the company’s reputation and standing in the market. There is an immediate need to initiate the company’s crisis plan.

Have a Crisis Response Plan

It’s important to have a crisis communications team in place before you are in an actual crisis situation. Identify who needs to be part of the team and make them aware of this additional role and your expectations of them if and when their participation in the crisis team is necessary. Some key questions to ask yourself as you assemble a crisis team:

  • Who are key stakeholders in the company and are decision makers?
  • What departments need to be involved in making decisions?
  • Who are the key people that can help communicate to key audiences?
  • Who is the spokesperson?

In most situations, the crisis communications team is composed of individuals from the C-Suite (CEO, COO, CFO, CCO, CMO, etc.), along with select individuals from the marketing/PR team, legal team and investor relations/Board of Directors. Depending on your business and industry, you may want to include individuals from other departments, such as sales, product, operations, R&D or HR. Regardless of who you choose to include on your crisis team, the most important thing is to involve them before a crisis strikes.

During a crisis situation, it is more important than ever to bring your “A” game. You want to make sure you deliver a consistent message time and time again, with similar messaging for internal and external audiences. If you put out different messages, it can negatively impact your credibility and raise suspicions.

Once you have your messages, make sure to identify who needs to receive it: who are your key audiences? What medium(s) will you use to communicate (written, in-person, video, etc.)? Is it multi-lingual? It’s important to answer these questions before a crisis strikes and include them as part of a clear and concise response plan. Remember to document your internal and external audiences, as well as the optimal channels to reach them. When a crisis situation strikes, quickly respond using the above tactics and your selected communication channel(s).

Create a Positive Brand Experience

While crisis situations are incredibly stressful and difficult times, they also provide an incredible opportunity to connect with your target audiences in a brand-centric way. Your target audience wants to hear from you and the way you handle the situation will play a major role in determining how you come out of it.

6 Tips For Creating A Crisis Communication Plan

MONITOR
Make sure to have a monitoring system to check for potential crisis issues, along with a system in place to identify risk level and how to best respond

PREPARE
Have a team in place with the right people who can quickly make decisions on how to address a situation

TRANSPARENCY
Make sure you are transparent and share information throughout a crisis

UPDATES
Update key constituents on a regular basis—even if there is not a substantial update

CONSISTENT MESSAGING
Create brand messages that you can incorporate into your messaging during a crisis

FOLLOW UP
Engage with key audiences after a crisis situation to create meaningful interactions with key audiences

Is your business in need of crisis communication assistance?

At Warschawski, our clients are our #1 top priority. We work with you to effectively create a crisis communication plan before it happens to mitigate risks and challenges that may arise throughout the life of your business. Contact us! We are here to help.