“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
― Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin Franklin never had to worry about a social media crisis, or a media swarm of cameras or the idea that something he uttered in private could be worldwide fodder in the click of a button. It was simpler times, but the quote rings as true today as it did in the late 1700s. It’s not sexy to plan for what ifs and the ROI is not always immediately apparent, but if you’re not prepared for “if” to happen — “if” will eat your lunch.
A thorough plan should strive to cover every conceivable angle, but if the user can’t use it — then it’s useless. Your plan should begin with a straightforward contents page that points a user in the direction to go when the “if” hits the fan.
In a brief highlight of each area, the following abbreviated “contents” list includes key parts of a successful crisis communication plan. There’s certainly room for additions, and we can always think of new items to add to a plan, but again, laying it out in a straightforward and user-friendly way is the first step in dealing with the “if.”
The key contact list
Who do I call/contact? Who needs to know? Who is the crisis team? Who has the keys to the conference room designated as central command? The IT employee who has access to the dark website (a pre-built site that can easily be “turned on” during a crisis management situation) — how do we get a hold of him?
Who are the audiences we care about most? This list can include key partners, local and state officials, customers, distributors, suppliers, etc.
You may think everyone knows how the communication flows at high-stress times — who approves, who has final say before publication — but in reality you want to be very clear about where the buck stops and starts with communication decision making.
Ever see one of those situations where multiple people are speaking on behalf of a company and all delivering a variety of messages? That company does not have a communication flowchart.
Crisis communication reminder steps
No two events are exactly alike, but generally speaking the steps you take are closely aligned. This section is a reminder of the steps to take in the early moments of a crisis.
• Communicate immediately, if necessary
• Manage logistics/team
• Develop messages
• Approve and release messages
• Monitor and provide feedback
Key media contacts
It’s best to acquire this information before you need it. Who is the media in your area, who are the main contacts, and what is the best way to get a hold of them?
Pre-prepared statements and sample press releases
Write it up before you need it. The airlines do it. It’s a bit morbid, but if a plane crashes they can just add the date, time and location, and the communication is underway.
It’s the type of investment you may never see a return on (if you’re one of those lucky few!), but when “if” hits, it will be the guide to navigating the worst of times and even enhancing your company’s reputation by handling “if” like a pro.
“Have a plan” is the third installment in a four-part series on crisis communication. In part one, find out how crises have evolved over time. In part two, learn how to identify your company’s vulnerabilities. Stay tuned for part four, which will show you the importance of stepping out before it’s too late.