Organizations of all sizes and types, regardless of the industry they are in, are exposed to a variety of crises, such as natural disasters, product recalls, cyberattacks, social media scandals, executive misconduct, employee issues, diversity equity and inclusion incidents and much more. The way an organization responds to a crisis can have a significant impact on its reputation, stakeholder relationships, financial performance, growth trajectory and in some cases, its existence. That’s why crisis communications planning is an essential part of any business planning.
Sound crisis communications planning can prepare an organization to effectively manage and communicate during any situation. It involves developing a comprehensive plan that clearly articulates the roles and responsibilities of key stakeholders, the communication channels, and messages to be used, and the actions to be taken before, during, and after a crisis.
Here are some steps that organizations can take to develop an effective crisis communications plan:
Identify potential crises
Organizations should conduct a risk assessment to identify the types of crises that they may face. Think of everything from the obvious, such as cyberattacks or workplace accidents to the unimaginable, such as workplace violence, racism or criminal activities. Any possible event that could harm the organization’s reputation or operations should be considered and thought through.
Establish a crisis team
Organizations should identify key stakeholders who will be responsible for managing a crisis, including the CEO, senior executives, communications professionals, legal counsel, and relevant subject matter experts. The team should have clear roles and responsibilities and be trained to respond quickly and effectively in a crisis.
Develop a crisis communications plan
The crisis communications plan should include the key messages to be communicated, the communication channels to be used, the timeline for communication, and a decision tree. It should also identify the audiences that need to be reached, such as employees, customers, shareholders, and the media.
Conduct regular crisis and message training exercises
Crisis communications planning is only effective if it is tested and refined over time. Organizations should conduct regular training sessions and crisis simulations to ensure that the team is prepared to respond quickly and effectively when a situation occurs.
Continuously evaluate and update the plan
Finally, organizations should continuously evaluate and update their crisis communications plan to reflect changes in the business environment, new risks, or lessons learned from previous crises. The business landscape changes so frequently and news spreads just as fast. It’s incumbent upon organizations to be just as agile and flexible in their crisis communications planning and preparation.
By identifying potential crises, establishing a crisis team, developing a crisis communications plan, conducting regular training and exercises, and continuously evaluating and updating the plan, organizations can be better prepared to manage any situation and protect their reputation, stakeholders, financial performance, and future.