Develop a Crisis Communications Plan...Before It's Too Late

The age-old saying, “there’s no such thing as bad press,” has and will always challenge public relations professionals, especially in an age where every quote, comment and picture are archived online. There are two camps of opinion on this topic. Those who think all publicity, praising or salacious, will benefit the brand with a sprinkle of PR fairy dust. And then there are others who will take the 'no comment' route and remain out of controversy, and focus on media strategies that complement the brand’s ethos.

Regardless of where your PR shop falls on this topic, it has never been more important to have calculated crisis management tactics in place if and when damage does occur to your company.

Prepare for the worst

Brainstorm with your crisis communications team all the possible scenarios that can possibly go wrong. Some crises are created internally - a major employee lay-off or a divestiture. While others remain unforeseen like a harassment claim. Crisis response plans will be tailored according to each crisis, but establishing a framework and update accordingly will alleviate stress in the long-run.

Build a crisis plan

Create support assets to counter the damage when the negative news hits. Strong talking points, news release formats, a chain of command to expedite approval processes and letters to stakeholders should all be on-hand for the communications team to rapidly respond. Every crisis will be different and crises plans will vary depending on the situation, but updating these assets and leaving placeholders for further detail is a crucial step to begin managing a crisis.

Prep the key spokesperson & messaging

The person responsible for talking to the media needs to emphasize simple statements to answer inquiries until the team drafts more in-depth messaging as the crisis continues to unfold. Picking the most appropriate spokesperson is crucial to salvaging the reputation of the company, especially in a messy situation. The spokesperson should have extensive media training and or understand the field reporting to properly answer hardball questions. Don’t forget - the messenger is just as important as the message.  

Address the stakeholders

Internal and external stakeholders should be notified immediately and sincerely. Protocols for addressing employees with an emphasis on not interacting with the media need to be clearly articulated as well. External stakeholders will speculate on the details of the crisis as it’s covered in the media. However, aim to be as transparent as possible in order to mitigate external and internal concerns. Frequently updating stakeholders will be beneficial from a trust perspective once the crisis sputters out.

Finalize key messaging

As a crisis unfolds, messaging and talking points will inevitably change. The crisis communications team will need to continue developing the crisis-specific messages as new information is being discovered and third parties continue to commit. The team will need to adapt the messaging to different forms of media as well. For example, Twitter has a limit on the character count while other outlets allow elaboration.

Recruit experts to speak on your behalf

The company should utilize relationships with third-party experts who can publicly speak about the organization, in positive tones, during a crisis. Third-party validation will boost the company’s reputation and potentially mitigate brand damage while restoring credibility and stakeholder loyalty. 

Post-Crisis Analysis
A company should perform a post-crisis analysis of what was done effectively and ineffectively, what could be done better next time and how to improve various elements of crisis preparedness is another necessary tactic to evaluate areas that need improvement if and when another crisis shakes the company.