When an incident occurs, the need to communicate is immediate. 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. All of these “audiences” will want information before the business has a chance to begin communicating. It is crucial to plan ahead;
Every single organization is vulnerable to crises. The days of sticking your head in the sand and playing ostrich are long gone. New media spreads the news now like never before. You can play ostrich, but your stakeholders will not be understanding or forgiving. Your stakeholders will forgive an accident but they will not forgive a poor response.
Before a crisis strikes, think through who needs to have a seat at the table. Consider all the aspects of your company, during the crisis, this team bears the responsibility for making decisions and spearheading communication.
A crisis situation should not be the first time any spokesperson speaks to the media. Identify the people who will officially communicate for your organization should a crisis develop and make sure these people are trained accordingly.
If a crisis occurs, you will want to reach out to key stakeholders personally before they hear about any bad news in the media. Make sure the crisis communications plan identifies these audiences. They might include employees, clients, customers, board members, business partners or regulatory bodies that might have an interest.
There is no need to keep multiple hard copies of your crisis plans in binders in multiple locations, at home, vacation homes, work, multiple offices, or anywhere else. For many years spreadsheets have been used as an aid for compiling crisis information. However, the evolution of technology has allowed organizations to capture, store, and analyze their data in a structured way, adding real value to compiled information.
Crisis communication today is very different than crisis communication of years past. Everyone with a phone is a potential reporter with the ability to record video or take photos that may influence the situation. Make sure the company understands that no one except the spokesperson is authorized to speak to reporters or members of the media. Write specific policies into the plan that address what employees are and are not permitted to say about the situation or the orgnization.
While full message development must await the outbreak of an actual crisis, “holding statements,” messages designed for use immediately after a crisis breaks, can be developed in advance to be used for a wide variety of scenarios to which the organization is perceived to be vulnerable. Another important element of the crisis communications plan is the need to coordinate the release of information. When there is an emergency or a major impact on the business, there may be limited information about the incident or its potential impacts.
Assess what crisis situations are the most likely to strike your company. Have a practice drill and run through the plan to make sure you have not ignored any challenges or opportunities. After the test, evaluate the plan and make any changes deemed necessary.
It's important to remember, when you can't get your hands on the information you need in a crisis, or when the information you have isn't appropriate, you can miss opportunities and your performance drops. As it happens, the information management ability organisations need to succeed is already within their grasp.