By Gerard Braud, CSP, Fellow IEC Crisis Communications Expert
How ready are you to communicate quickly, like an expert, in a crisis?
Adjacent to your Business Continuity Plan should be your Crisis Communications Plan. Your crisis readiness should position your organization to communicate quickly with your employees, the media, your customers, your community, and other stakeholders.
My experience is that the vast majority of organizations are getting ready to get ready. Few are actually ready. Getting ready to get ready for a crisis can be defined as a group of business executives who are aware that a situation could escalate to the status of a crisis, which in turn could damage their reputation and revenue. They are smart enough to know the dangers, but lack the urgency to empower someone to make it happen.
What should you do?
Dip your toe in the water?
Eat the elephant one bite at a time?
Do one little thing that makes a difference?
Here are 5 steps to effective crisis communications.
- Don’t be overwhelmed.
- Do one.
- Do it soon.
- Congratulate yourself.
- Set a goal to accomplish one more.
The 5 steps include:
1) Your Vulnerability Assessment: Make a list of all of the things that could affect your reputation and revenue. Don’t just focus on injuries, deaths, and disasters. Consider IT breaches, sexual misbehavior, and social media situations that get out of control. A facilitator can guide you through the process of considering things that might not be so obvious.
2) Your Crisis Communications Plan: Please don’t copy someone else’s simple list of standard operating procedures. The true test of an effective plan lies in your ability to hand it to someone and ask them to read it in real time and execute it.
If written correctly, they should be able to flawlessly gather information, confirm the information, and edit a prewritten news release, all in less than one hour. Just because someone types the words, “Crisis Plan” or “Crisis Communication Plan” at the top of a bad document doesn’t make it a real crisis communications plan. Besides, copying someone else’s plan may violate a copyright. If nothing else, it is the equivalent to copying someone else’s homework or cheating on a test. It’s wrong.
3) Your News Release Library: Statements are needed for every type of crisis. They are needed for the news media, as well as for employees, customers, and other stakeholders. If most of them are getting information and rumors from social media, then you have a problem.
Having a library of 100 prewritten news releases speeds up your communications in a world that moves at the speed of Twitter. Experience tells me most companies take 3-5 hours to write, edit and approve statements. But with a prewritten news release, written with the proper multiple-choice and fill in the blank formatting, you can edit the document and publish it to your website within 10-15 minutes, rather than 3-5 hours. Effective, fast communications helps you control the narrative, which protects your reputation and revenue.
4) Media Training for Spokespeople: What your spokesperson says can seriously damage your reputation and revenue. Talking to the media is not about being fast on your feet. Interviews are not about adlibbing key messages. It is a lie to think you can talk about only what you want to talk about. Proper media training prepares a spokesperson to add perspective, context, and truth. Proper media training helps control the final edit of a news report, and thereby helps control public perception. Media training allows a spokesperson to mess up in private so they do not mess up in person.
5) Your Crisis Drill: Like media training, a crisis drill allows your team to mess up in private so they don’t mess up in person. If your drill facilitator is effective enough to create realistic anxiety, the pressure shines a light on your star team members and casts a shadow on those who crack under pressure. A post-drill evaluation allows you to capture the best attributes of your stars so others can emulate their behavior. Likewise, those who performed poorly can be coached so they will do better in the future.
Do the 5 steps have to be done in this order? Not necessarily. The important thing is that you stop getting ready to get ready.
Instead, get ready!
Start by signing up for this FREE 5-part video series to make your path easier. Learn best practices in crisis communications. You will get great insights, secrets, and DIY tips. A free 15-minute phone call is included. Plus, you will get a few surprise crisis communications resources included.
Crisis communications and media training expert Gerard Braud, CSP, Fellow IEC is based in New Orleans. Organizations on five continents have relied on him to write their crisis communications plans and to train their spokespeople. He is the author of “Don’t Talk to the Media Until…”
More crisis communications articles: