Get to a first draft fast.
There’s nothing worse than being in the middle of a raging storm and realizing you don’t have an umbrella. Being in the storm isn’t going to be fun either way, but that umbrella is the difference between a miserable experience and a merely unpleasant one.
The same holds true for your crisis communications plan. Putting in the time and effort long before there’s a problem of any kind ensures you’re better able to navigate these tricky situations when they pop up.
In a recent Ragan Training video, Gerard Braud, president of Braud Communications and a crisis comms expert, laid out five simple steps to getting ready for a crisis in your organization. He advocates using a tech-inspired sprint mechanic for getting started. That is, set aside a few days to fully focus on this project and get a solid first draft under your belt. Then you can take the time to fine-tune until you have a plan that meets your needs.
Here’s how to do it:
Step 1: Vulnerability assessment
This is the time to figure out what your crises are. Braud defines a crisis as “a situation that could damage the revenue reputation and brand of your organization.” That revenue piece is important. Too often, Braud explains, reputation and brand are seen as squishy, undefinable items that are easily dismissed by executives.
But everyone knows how important it is to protect revenue.
So, during your vulnerability assessment, you want to look at every possible item that could go wrong. You want to look at both sudden crises — think of a natural disaster or active shooter — as well as “smoldering” events, like a product recall or a negative viral social media post.
Make sure you include stakeholders from throughout the business who can evaluate all the risks from their perspective. It can be easy for people sitting in an office to overlook the possible risks faced on a production line, in a server facility or with customer service gone awry.
Step 2: Create a crisis communications plan
You might think that the next step after identifying vulnerabilities is to write custom crisis communications plans for each of these potential disasters.
Not so, Braud says. He says that one properly written plan can serve every type of situation. The key is to have a sequential plan that starts from the time of the initial incidence and moves through:
- What to do
- Who does it
- How they do it
- How they gather, confirm and disseminate information
- How fast they must do it
The last key is critical, Braud explains. You used to have perhaps an hour to get an initial statement out; now, you should be looking to have something out the door in the first 5-15 minutes.
That may sound daunting, but it’s possible if you have a specific sequence of events that is so specific, it can be followed by anyone. Don’t be tempted to crib from free crisis communications plans from the internet. Create your own.
Step 3: Have pre-written news release statements
This is where you get into planning for all those vulnerabilities you found in Step 1. While the crisis communications plan itself shouldn’t change, the statements obviously should. For each scenario you uncovered, you should have a news release ready to go that can be completed quickly with fill-in-the-blank answers.
Not only will this make a PR pro’s life easier in a crisis, but it can also help other departments. Have your pre-written statements pre-approved by leadership, legal and other stakeholders so that in the heat of the moment, you all know the statement is ready to go and meets all needs.
Step 4: Media training
Bould suggests that you think of three different kinds of spokespeople who should be media trained.
The first should be your PR person. They’re typically the person you want to deliver your first statement. Stick to the who, what, when, where, why and how — and don’t speculate, especially on the why and how. Acknowledge what information you don’t have and explain how you’ll get more. Don’t take questions.
Your second spokesperson should be a subject matter expert. This will obviously change depending on the nature of the crisis. An accident on an assembly line will need a production expert, while a data breach needs an IT pro. They can speak to the specifics of the incident.
Finally, save your CEO and executives for the very biggest events, usually those that involve death or mass casualty. They should be your last line of defense when you need to “convey the ultimate empathy.” Don’t make them your first spokesperson.
Finally, don’t be afraid to lean on those pre-written statements from step 3. These can form the basis of a script that any of the spokespeople can use without fear of an unfortunate ad-lib.
Step 5: Crisis communications drills
Now that you have all the drafts of all the pieces in place, it’s time to find out if they work with a stress test. Braud recommends writing these like a murder mystery: they should have twists and turns and be realistic enough to produce real stress.
“You want people to have true anxiety,” Braud says.
You have the pieces. Do they work? Do a stress test. The secret to a drill is that it must be written like a murder mystery. Make it so realistic you truly stress people. “You want people to have true anxiety.”
This will allow you to see the strengths, weaknesses and holes in your plan and shore them up before you’re tested by the real thing.
See the full video at RaganTraining.com.
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