By Gerard Braud, CSP, Fellow IEC
As we enter the third full week of January, we’ll look at how to write a crisis communications plan. If you’ve followed these articles and videos since the beginning of the year, you know that you are being challenged to abandon news year’s resolutions in favor of consistency in behavior, not just for this year, but throughout the life of your organization.
Think of crisis communications expertise as a five step process, called the 5 Steps to Effective Crisis Communications. Think of a crisis communications plan as number three of those five steps.
This week we look at the heart of your crisis communications plan. This is the written document that is the instruction book that one would follow to know exactly what to do, when to do it, to whom specific tasks are assigned, and how fast those tasks must be completed.
- What to do.
- When to do it.
- Who does it.
- How fast must it be done.
As for what to do, the crisis communications plan must outline how you gather information, confirm that information, and then disseminate that information.
- Gather information.
- Confirm information.
- Disseminate information.
While those are the foundational elements, getting it perfect is difficult and time consuming. When writing my first plan, I put 9 months of work into the document. All these years later, that base document allows me to customize crisis communications plan for clients in five hours. But it was the outrageously hard to get the first plan written, so be patient. Forgive yourself on those days when you want to give up. Also, recognize that if you have other daily tasks to perform, finding the time will be a huge challenge.
Add two other goals to the process of writing your crisis communications plan. Aim to make the plan as thorough and detailed as possible, such that nothing falls through the cracks, yet make it so simple to follow that anyone who can read can execute it.
- So thorough that nothing falls through the cracks.
- So simple that anyone who can read can execute it.
Do not make the crisis communications plan simply a policy manual. Instead, make it a document that the lead communicator actually reads and follows in real time during a crisis. What does that mean?
Most crisis communications plans I’ve read are six page documents that say basic things such as, “Consider if you need to call a news conference.” Instead, list the conditions in which a news conference would be called, pre-determine multiple locations where it could be held, identify who your potential spokespeople will be, identify who will write the news release, outline the approval process, and outline the steps needed to prepare for the news conference.
- News conference parameters.
- Pre-determine locations.
- Pre-determine potential spokespeople.
- Pre-determine who will write the news release and press conference script.
- Outline the approval process.
- Outline the steps for a news conference rehearsal.
The fatal flaw with most crisis communications plans is that they are so vague, they require people in the organization to make too many decisions on the day of the crisis. This leads to arguments, debates, and delays.
The more specific your plan, the more terrific. For example, designate a timeline for completing each task. My plans state that a public statement needs to be released within one hour OR LESS, from the onset of the crisis going public. Most organizations take from three to four hours to release their first statement because 1) decisions have not been pre-made and 2) because news releases are not pre-written.
The secret to speedy communications involves relying on pre-written news releases. That is the third step in the five steps to effective crisis communications. We’ll tackle that next week.
In the meantime, take a look at your calendar and map out time for when you will tackle the task of writing your crisis communications plan. If you have questions, use this link to schedule a free 15-minute phone call with me to talk about your needs. If you wish to tackle this task on your own I’ll provide guidance and answer your questions. If you want me to carry the burden for you, in two days I can help you customize a plan and provide you with 100 pre-written news releases. The option is yours to decide which is best for you.
Which ever way you choose, make your crisis communications plan a priority. Aim to finish it in the first three months of the new year.
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…”
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