By Gerard Braud, CSP, Fellow IEC
- When someone says they don’t need to prepare for something, I cringe.
- When someone says, “I’ll wing it,” I feel a disaster coming.
- When someone rejects writing a crisis communications plan with pre-written news releases and says, “We’ll just get everybody in the room when it happens and hash it out,” I gasp in disbelief and wonder which world they live in.
Why are these so cringe-worthy?
Attendees can download handouts here.
Attendees can download this great special report about media interviews here.
Copies of Don’t Talk to the Media Until… can be purchased here.
In a world that moves at the speed of Twitter and mobile phone images, a crisis communications expert would tell you that seconds REALLY, REALLY, REALLY count.
But what do we see too often?
We see human egos telling executives that they can wing it and spontaneously crank out great media statements when a crisis hits.
Other companies operate on hope and denial, hoping a crisis never happens and denying the reality that it only takes one event to destroy the reputation and revenue of an organization.
The best companies take these five steps:
1. Conduct a Vulnerability Assessment
Hire a facilitator to help you build an extensive list of all of the potential issues that could affect your reputation and revenue. The facilitator will help you sort out the vulnerabilities that affect your incident command plan, your business continuity plan, and your crisis communications plan. Some types of crises will affect all three plans. But you’ll be surprised to see how many only trigger your crisis communication plan.
2. Write a Crisis Communications Plan
This task can take a year of collaboration to get it right. After too many years of exhausting collaboration, I’ve created a crisis communications system that can be licensed and put in place in a single day. If you are going to tackle this yourself, the key is to build a plan that can be read and simultaneously executed in real time, so nothing falls through the cracks. The more specific, the more terrific. When written properly, it perfectly captures the complicated process of gathering information, confirming the information, and then disseminating that information to various stakeholder groups. It is a fool’s bet to think you can hash out communications decisions spontaneously during a crisis. A great crisis communication plan should have decision trees built in to help your team select the best options based on the uniqueness of each crisis.
3. Write a library of pre-written news releases
Yes, with skill and time, you can write a news release today that is still perfect and ready to use ten years from now. The secret is to write statements with the proper multiple choice or fill-in-the-blank options, based on questions reporters are most likely to ask in a news conference. I typically license 100 at a time to most companies I work with. Short of subscribing to my library, your task is best achieved through a writing retreat. Realize that most companies take three to five hours before they release a statement during a crisis. In contrast, Twitter takes 60 seconds. Your job is to close that gap. Getting everyone in the room and hashing out a news release by committee during a crisis is the worst thing you can do.
4. Do Media Training for your spokespeople
The best athletes have coaches. The most successful business leaders have coaches. And yes, the best spokespeople have coaches. Oh, and yes, you will pay your coach a fair price for their skills. Interview your prospective coaches to see if they are a good fit. For crisis communications media training, be skeptical of a public relations firm that offers 20 different services plus media training. Also be weary of any trainer who tells you to ignore the reporter’s questions and talk about only what you want to talk about. That sort of bad advice will result in embarrassment, public outrage, and degradation to the company’s reputation and revenue. Media training should go hand-in-hand with writing your pre-written news releases. Those news releases, when written properly, should be the script you read to the media during a crisis news conference. Oh, and remember that one media training class doesn’t let you check this task off of a bucket list. Annual practice is a must.
5. Conduct a crisis drill to test your various plans and your people.
Many organizations conduct an emergency drill and only test their emergency response. Never do they role-play the scenario of conducting a news conference or facing an unruly mob of reporters. Likewise, many are not ready for the negative onslaught of social media during a real crisis. Hence, when a crisis happens, folks are outdone and beside themselves because the media and social media consume their time and attention, taking them off of their response game. These days, your drills must be holistic. Test every plan and every person all in one comprehensive drill.
Next time you hear a colleague suggest you hash it out on the day of your crisis and then wing it in interviews, feel free to challenge them, their ego, and their denial.