Survival Guide to Crisis Communications

Crisis: A crisis is defined as an event, situation, or public initiative that threatens a company’s ability to effectively operate its business. A crisis can escalate into a disaster or long-term impediment to business growth if not handled with efficiency and sensitivity to all involved. 

When a crisis occurs the need to communicate is immediate and corporate communications teams are often put to the test. How the team responds to an urgent need for communications often determines how well the press and the public perceive the organization’s efforts in mitigating the crisis.  

If business operations are disrupted, customers will want to know how they will be impacted. Regulators may need to be notified, and local government officials will want to know what is going on in their community. Employees and their families will be concerned and want information. Neighbors living near a facility may need or want information—especially if they are threatened by the incident. All of these “audiences” will want information before the business has a chance to begin communicating.  

A critical component of a good preparedness program is a crisis communications plan. A business must be able to respond promptly, accurately and confidently during an emergency in the hours and days that follow as the image of the business can be positively or negatively impacted by public perceptions of the handling of the incident. 

Some examples of crises that would require preparation and thoughtful response include: 

Natural disasters
Technological crisis
Organizational misdeeds or misconduct
Workplace Violence
Terrorist attacks or other human-made disasters 

Crisis prevention activities are designed to prepare you for possible crises by reviewing vulnerabilities, creating structure, and plans that will guide your reaction and response. Predetermining how you will react in advance saves valuable time in the heat of the storm.  

Often it is the anonymous public who break the story as well and will want updates. In a world where information travels quickly on social media, corporate communication teams cannot afford to simply manage online, and print media as social media users often react with alarming speed and information and opinion can spread quickly.   

It is essential to develop a strategy to help the team move from reacting to the incident to managing a strategy to overcome the event.  

Before a Crisis: Prepare

Be proactive
Identify crisis communications team
Identify and train spokespeople
Establish notification systems
Identify stakeholders and audiences
Develop sample statements
Establish process to be followed 
Train the team

After a Crisis: Execute 

Quickly gather the team
Assess the situation and gather all known facts
Finalize messaging, develop situation specific and alter as needed depending on the audience
Manage and monitor the conversation (media/social media)
Create key messages and FAQ document and update frequently
Coordinate release of information
Set up an emergency operations center
Assess the situation routinely, adjust approach if needed or to provide additional information or context 

Post-Crisis Analysis
After the dust has settled, gather your team and dig into key learnings. Make a note of what went well and what didn’t, what could be done better next time and how to improve various elements of your crisis preparedness.  

Are You Prepared?
Do you have a crisis communications plan in place? Have you written your business continuity plan? If crisis hit today – would you be ready?  

How can we help?
When a crisis occurs, the need to communicate is immediate. Having a strategic crisis communications plan in place allows you to respond quickly, confidently, and accurately. Our communications practice leader brings more than a decade of experience in crisis communications. She has supported crisis preparedness, planning, and execution with a variety of for-and-non-profit businesses, including supporting crisis needs for one of the best hospitals in the country 

We would love to collaborate with you to build a plan that will control the message and successfully regain trust