Why you should create a crisis communications plan BEFORE you need one

watercolour-2173846_1920 May 26, 2017

Summer is nearly here. How did we get here already? Everyone’s calendar is filling with plans for graduations, Memorial Day and other celebrations.

But, not everyone is celebrating.

The past couple of months has been anything but a party for several well-known brands. Pepsi. Delta. Adidas. And of course, United. All these brands have had major missteps that became headline news.

While we may cringe when we hear these tales of corporate missteps, there may be a silver lining. These mistakes present an opportunity to talk about how PR, specifically crisis communications planning, can help in times of trouble.

Crisis communications planning is something EVERY business should consider. Even smaller companies need to have a crisis plan in place, should they fall victim to an unforeseen catastrophe. And with social media there to spread the bad news, if it does happen, it can very quickly go viral.

So, what should you do should a crisis befall your business? The absolute worst thing you can do is bury your head in the sand and pretend it never happened. This only makes you look guilty—even if it was a simple misunderstanding that caused the issue. Getting out in front of the story before it blows up is in your best interest.

Of course, one of the very first things you should do is apologize. And, it shouldn’t just be any ole’ “I’m sorry.” It needs to be genuine, heartfelt and make it clear that you take responsibility for your actions. For more on how to apologize, read this post, Turns Out Knowing How to Apologize Matters in a PR Crisis.

Beyond the apology, you should think about having a basic crisis communications plan. Here are some guidelines on what to include in a simple plan:

  • Select a crisis team: This should include various departments across the company, such as management, communications, legal, HR, and operations. For smaller companies, this may be simple—the owner assumes many of these responsibilities. This brings up important points, such as making sure you have an attorney to call on, should you need one. And, as we’ve seen, the communications piece is critically important, so if this isn’t your strong suit, make sure you have someone to call on for help.
  • Determine audiences: The audiences you should consider include your customers, employees, the news media, the community, partners and perhaps investors. This varies, depending on the type of business.
  • Designate a spokesperson: This is usually the CEO or owner of the business. In a larger company, it could be another C-level executive. If needed, you can designate more than one spokesperson, such as one who can handle more complex questions that require specifics the CEO may not be as well versed in. In addition, it’s always a good idea to have a backup spokesperson, just in case your top choice is traveling, ill or otherwise unavailable.
  • Prepare for interviews: Practice answering tough questions. Prepare a Q&A that covers the most difficult questions and the answers you want to provide. Do NOT “wing it”—you need practice. And it isn’t just the words you use but the tone. More on that here.
  • Establish media policy and procedures: Be sure to route all journalists to the same contact or department. Log every call and contact. Keep notes on how each is handled. If you promise to follow up with a reporter on a question, be sure to do that.

Keep in mind, this is a very basic outline. If you’re ready to plan for what your organization will do in the event of a crisis, try following these steps to get some guidelines in place. Or, call on a PR expert to help you flesh out a plan to fit your needs.

 

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