How to Write a Crisis Communications Plan That Works?

By Gerard Braud, CSP, Fellow IEC

You are being challenged to complete 5 steps toward effective crisis communications before the end of 2019.  Today the focus is on how to be a crisis expert in every crisis, because you have the right kind of crisis communication plan.

The first question to ask yourself is do you have a crisis communications plan where you work?

If you have a crisis communications plan where you work, excellent. We will next challenge you to review your crisis communication plan to make sure it works.

(Get more details when you download our free course on the 5 Steps to Effective Crisis Communications)

If you don’t have a crisis communication plan where you work, turn to the Vulnerability Assessment that you read about in yesterday’s blog.  Review your Vulnerability Assessment and review the potential economic impact that various crisis events could cause to your employer. THAT should be your justification for making crisis communications planning a priority.

By definition, a crisis communications plan is a tool. It should be as vital to a public relations person as a hammer is to a carpenter or a calculator is to an accountant.

-Gerard Braud

The sad reality is that many companies and the executives in charge of these organizations simply think PR people will magically make everything go away if and when a crisis happens. That is never true. It isn’t magic. Crisis communications takes planning, preparation, practice, and successful implementation as a crisis is unfolding.

Likewise, many public relations people take pride in trying to wing-it in a crisis. Then, after they fail they want to do a conference breakout session on the lessons they leaned by not being prepared. Really? Most crisis communication experts would say that you should be fired because you have the means to learn and prepare, yet you failed to prepare.

At its core, a crisis communications plan should be the tool you use to:

  • Gather information
  • Confirm information
  • Disseminate information

In too many situations, communicators copy someone else’s bad idea of a crisis communications plan. By that, I mean most plans that I’ve been asked to review over the past 20 years are 6 to 12 pages long. Most contain checklists of things that should be done.

The flaw with these plans is:

  • They fail to assign responsibilities to key people
  • They fail to dictate a timeline for the completion of various tasks.

If you have this kind of a document and you think it is a plan, you are mistaken. It is only a checklist.

  • A checklist is a checklist.
  • A plan is plan.
  • A checklist is not a plan.

The best crisis communications plans should:

  • Capture each required action in chronological order.
  • Assign each task to a specific person.
  • Require that person to complete the tasks in a specific amount of time.
  • Explain in detail how to complete that task.
  • And where possible, complete that task in advance. For example, a task on a checklist may be to write a news release. A well-written multiple-choice/fill-in-the-blank news release can be written in advance.

My dream for you is that your crisis communications plan:

  • Captures every action that a senior crisis communications expert would take
  • Places those steps in chronological order
  • Provides simple, clear details on how to perform each task like a crisis expert
  • Is so detailed that nothing falls through the cracks
  • Is so simple that anyone who can read would be able to follow the directions in order to execute the plan without mistakes

Yes, it is a tall order. But yes, it is doable.

Yes, it is a lot of work. Yes, it will cost you time and/or money. But in fairness, go back to any one item on your Vulnerability Assessment and re-examine the financial impact of each potential crisis. That should help you justify the amount of time and/or effort and/or money that you and your employer should be willing to devote to the process of writing or refining your crisis communications plan. 

Always remember what has been said a million times: “If you fail to plan; plan to fail.”

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:

Day 1: Crisis Plans, Crisis Preparation, Crisis Practice & Crisis Perfections = Crisis Communications Expert

The Biggest Lie in Crisis Communications

4 Steps Every Company Needs to Take in Order to Avoid the Default Spokesperson

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