How to Write a Crisis Communication Plan? Step One: Identify What Could Go Wrong?

By Gerard Braud

(Writer’s note: Every day in March we’ll have a fresh, free, new article on this topic. If you’d like to dig deeper, you may wish to purchase a recording of the teleseminar called Social Media & Crisis Communications. Here is your purchase link.)

The decision to use social media for crisis communications is not a decision you should Gerard Braud Audience 11make independent of considering your holistic approach to crisis communication.

Social media is only one set of tools that may be in your communications tool box. All tools must be considered, including very traditional approaches, including news conferences, news releases, e-mail and your website. In the workshops I teach and at the conferences where I am asked to speak, I often tell the audience that “tried and true beats shiny and new.” And helping you understand the pros and cons of social media in a crisis and what is the best approach for your organization, is the purpose of this series of articles.

My goal is for you to decide what the “right fit” is for you, rather than perhaps the “force fit” that I see many people using.

But before we go further with our discussion of social media, we must lay a solid foundation for crisis communication with a solid Crisis Communications Plan.

If you want to write a successful Crisis Communication Plan, you need to start with the end in mind. This is a two-fold process. Part of the process is to know every crisis your company, school, hospital, chemical plant, refinery, electric company non-profit, or government agency may face. Another part of the process is to imagine how each of these crises will unfold and what you will be called upon to communicate during the crisis. What will the media want to hear from you and when? What will your employees want to hear from you and when? What will your other stakeholders want to hear from you and when? Should social media be part of your crisis communications strategy?

Step one in writing a Crisis Communications Plan is to conduct a vulnerability assessment. I have two different approaches I use with my clients, and you can use either of these approaches where you work. You can either do this on your own or call me for assistance.

Approach one is to schedule visits with many individuals throughout your organization to ask them what they fear may go wrong and cause a crisis. It is important to visit with people from all layers of your organization. What your top executives experience every day will shape their perception of what might go wrong. But there are many people in middle management and entry level jobs who see risks every day that you need to be aware off.

As you gather their thoughts, compile them in a spreadsheet so we can evaluate them further. Cluster them by types of crises, such as natural disasters, criminal, business operations, financial, technical, computer/IT related, or executive misbehavior.

A second approach I use is to facilitate a group meeting with people from each department within the organization. I segregate them by departments at round tables through the room. Each group is lead through a facilitated discussion about what defines a crisis. Next, the groups are asked to discuss and list all of the potential crises within their realm of responsibility. Each group then presents their list of potential crises for the group, so we can engage in discussions about how to deal with these crises. In some cases, we come up with great ways to eliminate problems and change policies or procedures in order to lesson the chance that a specific crisis might happen.

In both approaches, I define a crisis as any event that may affect the reputation and profits of the institution, which may also affect the institution’s ability to serve their customers.

A few words of warning: Risk managers often offer to let you use their vulnerability assessment. The problem with the vulnerability assessment from a risk manager is that they base their responses on high, medium and low probabilities of a crisis happening. In communications, the risk probability is irrelevant. Your job is to communicate any time a crisis happens.

Another warning is that risk managers and emergency operations directors often focus only on production related crises, such as the products made, the services offered, the equipment used, or the direct threats to human health or the environment. Absent from their lists will be things like sexual harassment, discrimination based on race or gender, or embezzlement.

Please don’t let their approach overshadow the approach you must take to plan for and exercise your communication functions.

Please recognize that if there is a fire and explosion, the Risk Management Plan, the Emergency Operations Plan, and the Crisis Communications Plan, will all be executed simultaneously. We call this type of crisis a “sudden” crisis. But if an executive is accused of sexual harassment and the case is getting public attention, neither the Risk Management Plan, nor the Emergency Operations Plan will be triggered. But the Crisis Communications Plan is triggered and must be used. We call this type of crisis a “smoldering” crisis.

A final word of caution: Don’t let the people who use the Risk Management Plan or the Emergency Operations Plan convince your executives that they have everything covered, because they may call their plan a “Crisis Plan,” and confuse it with your “Crisis Plan.” Truth be told, everyone should stop using the term “Crisis Plan” and use 3 specific names for their plans: Risk Management Plan, Emergency Operations Plan (sometimes called an Incident Command Plan), and Crisis Communications Plan.

With that said, we’ll stop for the day and your assignment is to begin your vulnerability assessment.


“I Cannot Tell A Lie” — If George Washington’s Quote Applied to Social Media and Public Relations

By Gerard Braud

georgewashingtonYet one more group of public relations and marketing professionals has asked me to speak at their PR & Marketing conference about the wonderful ways social media will allow them to connect and sell to their customers. I love to speak at conferences, but I cannot tell a lie, especially about social media and the return on investment (ROI) for companies.

I cannot tell you to use social media for positive ROI without talking about the negative ROI.

Too many PR and marketing professionals still mistakenly think social media is their magic bullet. The truth is, one size does NOT fit all. One company may get great ROI through social media while other companies will generate zero buzz or attraction.

The reality is, one should never talk about the positive side of social media for sales and marketing without talking about the negative effects of social media. It can destroy an organization’s reputation, which then negatively affects the revenues. Social media is a dangerous double-edged sword that cuts both ways. I’ve spoken at many conferences which focus too heavily on social media marketing, without full consideration of the “the big picture.”

Some organizations and brands are a perfect fit for social media. I’ve had the pleasure of working with Chobani Yogurt, which benefited from a huge love fest on social media from people who first discovered the product when it first appeared on store shelves a few years ago. Their following developed organically and company benefited from the loyalty of their customers.

This might not be as true for a bank, hospital, electric company, oil company, etc.

One needs to consider the demographics of the social media audience. Chobani is a darling for the social media active 18 – 32 age group, especially among females.

facebook-like-buttonMeanwhile, many of my clients in the rural electric cooperative sector are in communities consisting of primarily older residents who are less active on social media and who are not constantly using their iPhones for calls, texting, and social media. Many are farmers and ranchers who are working the fields all day and not sitting in front of a computer, laptop, tablet or phone. Also, the rural residents who are young and active on social media don’t want to talk about, or follow, or “Like” their rural electric company, their bank, their hospital, or any of the other industries that don’t understand the true nature of social media.

Despite the success of Chobani on social media, when Chobani had a product recall recently, their brand got beat up by their detractors. Meanwhile, my rural electric co-ops, which get little traffic in good times, get a significant increase in traffic during their crisis events, especially when there is bad weather and a power outage.

In the world of social media, too much focus is on Facebook and Twitter, with not enough emphasis on YouTube and videos, which then requires photographic skills and trained spokespeople. In the world of social media, younger folks are leaving Facebook for Instagram and Pinterest. These forms of social media are even more difficult to use for ROI and sales for service industries, while it might be the best marketing for chic consumer brands. In the world of Twitter, only 16% of the population uses it, which makes it hard to use to reach customers, yet it is widely used by the media during a crisis.

Gerard Braud Audience 11In talking about social media one must be careful that young sales, PR & Marketing professionals who use social media daily, think the entire world is ready to embrace social media. The hypocrisy is that they want to market and sell their companies using social media, while the reality is that they have no personal desire to follow a bank, hospital or electric company on social media. A sales, marketing or PR person is doing a disservice to their organization to think they can significantly generate new customers and spread the world about new lines of business without recognizing that:

a) the demographics may not support their belief

b) the “sexiness” of the product may not support their beliefs

c) social media may have a greater negative impact on ROI than it has a positive impact on ROI.

The reality may be that they cannot justify the investment of their time in social media.

So… yes, I can customize a program for your conference if it is focused on all aspects of social media – the good, the bad and the ugly — but I cannot do a program that tells the audience social media is a rosy, wonderful world.


What Leaders & PR People Can Learn from Lance Armstrong: Denial & Crisis Communication

By Gerard Braud

Lance Armstrong’s denial of doping over the years provides a valuable crisis communications and public relations case study for analyzing denial by powerful people and how they communicate in a crisis.

This is important for two reasons:

1) Public relations people may give excellent advice and professional council, but be rebuffed by their corporate leaders.

2) Corporate leaders may be blinded by the view from their high perch and ignore the wise council of their public relations professionals.

Lance Armstrong appears to have shifted from a position of denial to a position of doing his duty and coming clean.

Denial is also a critical marker in crisis communications, especially in a smoldering crisis. Penn State is a perfect example of an entire institution where the leaders were in denial.

As a rule, the longer you remain in denial, the more you cause monetary and reputational harm to the institutions with which you are associated.

Lance Armstrong has harmed his Livestrong Charity, his sponsors and his businesses. (PR Daily, CNN)

This is true for denial at Penn State and many other organizations with allegations of child sexual abuse being swept under the rug.

PR people – When you see denial, urge the leader to come clean. If they don’t come clean and follow your advice, then it is time for you to polish your resume and find a job where you are respected for your advice and where the leaders have higher ethics

Leaders – When your public relations team tells you that the best thing to do is to come clean, please humble yourself to take their advice.

Here are a few important leadership lessons.

In every crisis I have witnessed and in every case study I have analyzed, individuals in leadership positions follow distinctive, easy to identify patterns that foreshadow their future success or failure.

• Some leaders do their duty, while others are in denial.

• Some take action, while others are arrogant.

If a leader does their duty and takes action, then their constituents (employees, stakeholders, etc.) will be responsible and remain loyal. However, when the person in the leadership position is in denial and is arrogant, their constituents blame everyone for the failings that occur, and the individual in denial and showing arrogance also blames everyone for his or her failings. (In the case of Lance Armstrong, he has spent years blaming his accusers.)

Remember this:

Duty vs. Denial

Action vs. Arrogance

Being Responsible vs. Blame


The best way to exhibit leadership in a crisis is to plan ahead on a clear sunny day, starting with a three-plan approach including a crisis communications plan, an incident command plan and business continuity plan.  Armstrong makes a perfect example for this three-plan approach because he is a leader and CEO who is continuously in the media, he is a brand, and he runs a business.  Most organizations and leaders are up to date on their incident command and business continuity plans, but most fail to plan for speaking to the media, employees, and other key audiences.

My crisis communications plans usually have 100 or more pre-written and pre-approved templates, each containing the words a leader would

use to communicate when “it” hits the fan, especially during the early hours of a crisis when emotions and anxiety are high.

As new issues arise, a document must be created for these new issues. This is especially true of smoldering issues, such as allegations harmful to the brand. Having the proper statement depends upon the leader telling the truth and not being in denial.

The best time to write such templates is on a clear sunny day and the worst time to write and formulate your words is in the throes of a crisis.

Managing a business and making money are too often the characteristics executives consider the mark of a good leader.

In my world, a leader is someone who uses effective communications in critical times to get their audience and themselves through what may be our darkest hours, so we can emerge into a bright new day.

Feel free to download this PDF and share it with your fellow leaders and PR teams.

3 Dead in Murder-Suicide: The Time is Never Right to a Write a Crisis Communications Plan

Friday 2 people were murdered, then the killer killed himself. One of the murders, as well as the suicide, was done “in the workplace.” I won’t say where, out of respect for the privacy of the person who called me the day before. All of this happened where he works.

Just 24-hours before, on Thursday, he called asking me to help his organization write a Crisis Communications Plan. He said he’s had my card on his desk for the past 6 years. We met at a Crisis Communications Workshop I had taught in his town.

He had high hopes of scheduling me to fly out to help him this summer. He said conditions were not right to do it before then.

This tragic event is one more reminder that we, in the corporate world, try to plan out everything. We move this because of a certain project and we postpone that because of another deadline.

Have you ever notices that violent people don’t care about your deadlines or projects? Have you noticed that explosions still happen even when you are not ready for them?

The best thing you can do is to set priorities, with clarity as to what is “urgent” and “important” for the long-term health of you, your people and your institution. There are many urgent and important little things that are on our short to-do list that can but put off.

There is no perfect time in your schedule to stop to write a Crisis Communications Plan. The time to commit to it is today. The time to place it on the urgent and important list is today. The worst time to prepare for a crisis and to deal with a crisis is on the day of the crisis. The best time is on a clear sunny day long before the crisis rears its ugly head.

I’ve successfully helped organizations on 5 continents write and complete a full crisis communications plan in as few as 2-days. I have a much longer list of companies who have called, but who could not find 2 days on the schedule to get this done.

We extend our sympathies and prayers to those who are affected.

Write and Complete a World-Class Crisis Communications Plan in the Two Most Intense and Productive Two Days of Your Career

Join Global Crisis Communications Expert Gerard Braud in Denver, CO

October 29 & 30, 2012

Save Time – Save Money – Save Lives

Watch this video on YouTube via this link

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You need a Crisis Communications Plan, but you don’t have time to write one on your own or you know you don’t have the expertise to do it correctly. You need a Crisis Communication Plan, but every price you’ve gotten from an agency is expensive and outside of your budget.

You need help. We have the solution.

Only Gerard Braud offers this intense 2-day program that generates his exclusive, world renowned Crisis Communications Plan, used around the world by corporations, non-profits and government agencies.

You bring your team of writers and Gerard Braud will provide you with the most amazingly designed communication documents. You and your team of writers will customize your plan under his personal supervision.

You’ll leave the workshop not with theory, but with a finished document.

You could struggle on your own and after a year of work never create a Crisis Communications Plan that is this well thought out and perfect for every crisis.

You could hire an agency and spend more than $100,000 and not achieve the same level of success.

Your cost to attend this amazing workshop is just $7,995 per company/organization.

For one corporate price, you are invited to bring up to 6 writers to participate in the 2-day process of customizing your company’s new plan.

This isn’t touchy-feely collaboration. This is you and your team locked in a room for 2 days getting real work done without distractions.

This is going from your “to-do list” to your “done list.”

This is going from “I wish we had” to “we did it.”

Size & Price Matter

Many organizations spend 6 months and $25,000 to $100,000 to create a six page plan that will fail them every time, which is the document on the left side of this photo. In just 2 days we create the document you see on the right. It is 3 inches thick and full of everything you need to do and say in a crisis.

Register before Monday, October 15, 2012 and receive an immediate $500 discount.

Earn an additional $500 discount for each additional company that you recruit to join us for the 2-day workshop.

For registration details, call Gerard Braud at 985-624-9976.

Can’t Make These Dates?

Call us to discuss your options.

About Your Instructor

Known as the guy to call when “it” hits the fan, Gerard Braud (Jared Bro) is an expert in crisis communications and media issues. He is an international trainer, author and speaker, who has revolutionized crisis communications for organizations on five continents.

Versed in the daily struggles of corporations, non-profits and government agencies, Gerard developed this exclusive 2-day workshop as a remedy to cries of “we don’t have time to do it on our own” and “we can’t afford to hire an agency.”

Only Gerard Braud bridges the gap by offering an affordable alternative in a time frame that fits everyone’s schedule and budget.

What’s his secret? As a senior communicator with more than 30 years experience as a journalist and a corporate communicator, Gerard has been on the front line of crises his entire career. He has invested more than 1,500 hours of time into capturing the most perfect behaviors any communicator could dream of… and he’s put it into a sequential plan. It is a plan so thorough that nothing is left out, yet a plan so perfectly organized that it can be successfully executed by anyone who can read, regardless of their job title or communication experience.

What You Need to Bring

  • A laptop for each writer
  • 6 of your best writers
  • Specific documents you will be asked to prepare in advance.

For full details and answers to all of your questions, call 985-624-9976 or email

The Fine Print: Each Crisis Communications Plan is the intellectual property of Diversified Media, LLC, dba Gerard Braud Communications. As such, your organization is technically purchasing a license to use the plan. Your organization is granted rights to use the plan, but it remains the copyright product of Gerard Braud Communications. As such, you are prohibited from ever sharing your plan with anyone who is not an employee of your organization.

So… The new International Media Training No-No

Media Training - Gerard Braud - Braud CommunicationsSoooooo…. I’ve noticed a new trend. Soooooo…. it appears people think every sentence needs to start with “Soooooo….” Soooooo…. stop it already!

I first noticed this alarming trend while teaching media training to a global defense contractor in Los Angeles in 2010. One engineer — a lead engineer –started every sentence with “Soooooo….” It was driving me nuts and I worked with him to eliminate it.

When I came back to Los Angeles for their annual media training class one year later, “soooooo….” had spread like an epidemic. Much like corporate jargon spreads like a virus, so had soooooo…  In the 2011 refresher course,  nearly every engineer was saying soooooo…. as the open to every sentence.

Normal people don’t talk like that. But it is spreading, not like any ordinary virus, but like a global pandemic. I was teaching media training in Europe recently and a petroleum engineer with a major oil company had the same bad habit. During our media training role playing on camera, she began every answer with “Soooooo….”

As best as I can tell, this bad habit is rooted among engineers and IT (information technology) employees. If you hear it, please try to put a stop to it. Otherwise the pandemic will infect every conversation and media interview in the future.

Don’t Repeat the Negative – Media Training Expert Tips

You would think that in 2010, spokespeople would be smart enough not to repeat a negative phrase as part of an interview or as a phrase in an advertising campaign. Surprisingly, it still goes on.

This month, the country of Colombia has launched a new tourism campaign. So what do you think of when you think of Columbia? Do you think about the risk of cocaine drug lords, the risk of hostage taking and killings? Do you think about how you might be risking your life if you travel there?

The new Colombian tourism ads use the word “risk.” It’s a nice try at a play on words, but someone should fire the agency that agreed to write and produce these spots.

The commercials are beautiful and enticing on their own. But as soon as you hear the phrase “risk,” it makes you remember the danger, and causes you to second guess any notion of falling in love with the enticing images of the commercial.

This latest example comes on the heels of Christine O’Donnell’s failed run for the U.S. Senate from Delaware. After announcing on cable TV that she dabbled in witchcraft, she tried to defend her candidacy by repeating the phrase, “I’m not a witch” in countless interviews and even used it as the opening phrase in her TV commercials. Dumb, dumb, dumb. If you do a Google search for “I’m not a witch,” O’Donnell comes up several million times.

The rule is, you never repeat a negative word or phrase. As you prepare for your next interview or media training class, purge your answers of the negatives and learn how to answer questions without adding negative phrases.

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Gerard Braud – Being Opportunistic – PR Sins of 2009 & How to Redeem Yourself in 2010

As we look back at the sins of 2009 and ways to redeem yourself in 2010, today’s lesson is about how to be opportunistic.

Opportunistic means you take advantage of a situation to get what you want. Maybe it is because I grew up in a large family and had to fight my 3 older brothers and a younger sister for everything I got, but being opportunistic has served me well in life.

Being opportunistic means that when you observe a situation, you use the power of persuasion, supported by a business case, to convince your boss to let you do what needs to be done, even if you’ve previously been told “no,” as we discussed yesterday.

You can apply this technique to many of your communications needs, but since I write crisis communications plans and teach media training, I’ll share with you a real life example of a HUGE opportunity that passed many people by in 2009.

Every year I get a wave of inquiries from people who want me to help them write their crisis communications plan, and most want a package, complete with a crisis communications drill and train their spokespeople. Many of the inquiries come this time of year because so many people these items on a list of goals and tasks to complete for the coming years. But many of those plans didn’t get written in 2009 because people were told “no, there’s no money in the budget.”

Then in April 2009, the Swine Flu epidemic began. This crisis presented a huge opportunity for you to go back to your boss, paint a grim picture, explain the potential negative impact the Swine Flu could have on your businesses, and get the funding you need.

Another way to be opportunistic is to get help from other departments. Pandemics are a huge concern for risk managers and human resource managers. In every risk management and human resources seminar, there are classes that focus on dealing with pandemics. This is a big issue for them. That means that if you are opportunistic, you can partner with those other managers to convince leadership that a crisis communications plan is an important element of risk management and employee communications.

Most of you who subscribe to the BraudCast are in internal communications, external communications, media relations, PR and marketing. And many folks in these fields are, by their very nature timid, and often take “no” as a final answer. I’d suggest that for 2010 you set as one of your goals to become opportunistic.

Look at it this way… In the case of the Swine Flu, workers would get sick, workers might die, productivity, production and sales could suffer… and you’d be called upon, likely at the last minute, to start crafting both a strategy and messages to deal with the impending crisis. That’s not really fair to you, is it? Especially if there is a solution, namely a pre-written crisis communications plan with pre-written templates. And if you already have a plan, you know it needs to update and tested. I have one client who is so opportunistic that I help him conduct 4 crisis communications drills every year.

So if you know in your heart that being prepared is the right thing to do professionally… then the answer is, being opportunistic is also the right thing to do professionally. If you achieve your goal and still do it legally and ethically, there is nothing wrong with being opportunistic.

Timing is critical when you are trying to be opportunistic. You have to be ready build a business case immediately after a crisis begins and present it to leadership while the crisis is still fresh in their minds. It doesn’t matter if the crisis is where you work or if it is a high profile crisis in the news. I can tell you from experience that each day that you get further from the crisis, the more likely leadership is to forget the trauma and devalue your proposal.

If your 2009 sin was a missed opportunity, your redemption in 2010 is setting a goal to be more opportunistic.

Tomorrow, we’ll talk about Shinny New Objects.


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Top Sins of 2009 & How to Redeem Yourself for 2010 – Monday

For the next 5 days we’ll be looking at the sins of 2009… and what you can do to redeem yourself in 2010.

Each year when I look back and look ahead for this program, I generally focus on crisis communications, media training and public relations. But this year, we need to take some time to talk about you, the person…

The best thing you can do to start the year and improve your life is flush 2009 for the economically depressing year that it was. Either your life has personally suffered or you know people who have. Many of us have friends who have lost jobs. Maybe you are one of them.

You all faced budget cuts at work, so 2009 was a tough year to manage.

Part of the backlash is that 2009 has led to scarcity thinking and a scarcity mentality among too many of my professional colleagues. You hear negatives at work all day; you get told no all day; you hear there’s no money in the budget. Then you take all those “no’s” and all that negative money talk home into your personal life. All that funk from work pollutes your own life. Hence, you start thinking small; you start focusing on what you can’t do, rather than what you can do and what you should do.

How do you fix this? What is your redemption for 2010? As an entrepreneur, I have to be success minded and positive 24/7. After I serve my clients all day, I spend the next 8 hours running the business side of my business. The best and brightest minds I’ve ever met have taught me to flush out any negatives in my life with positive information. I began this back in the days when I had jobs I hated. So at the risk of sounding like a motivational speaker, my best tip for redemption in 2010 is to start reading from positive attitude books, and to do it for 15 minutes every night before you lay your head on the pillow.

The first book I suggest you put on your reading list is “Think & Grow Rich” by Napoleon Hill. This 1934 classic has been a favorite of the world’s most successful people. The principles in the book will help reshape your outlook and help flush away some of the negative crud from 2009. Please be willing to forgive some of the 80-year-old cultural references to race and gender and look into the success principles that you should apply at home and at work. If you work in a company where there have been layoffs, I’d add to your reading list, “Who Moved My Cheese.” Also on this list I would place Dale Carnegie’s classic, “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” Even if you’ve read them before, read them again because I promise you’ll get new inspiration and wisdom. You might also want to subscribe to Success Magazine. I love it because it is so current and it comes with an audio CD that I can listen to while I drive.

You never improve your life unless you constantly make changes. If you keep doing the same things every day, don’t expect different results. And remember, what got you here, won’t get you there.

So if your 2009 sin was being sucked into all the negative thinking of the year, your redemption for 2010 is to change the way the think. I think reading 15 minutes before bed in these books will start to give you’re a brighter outlook in your personal and professional life; 15 minutes before bed makes for a much brighter morning.

When you start, please send me an e-mail and tell me how it’s going. I really want to know that you are OK and that together we can flush out the crud.

Now, enough about the that… Tomorrow turn our attention back to the workplace as we look at why “No” doesn’t mean “No!”

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Executive Media Training 101 for Kanye West

by Gerard Braud

Kanye West — You were on Jay Leno last night. Your had a chance. You blew it. So here’s a free Media Training 101 course — Your key message should have been, “I’m sorry.” In 3 minutes on the air you never got around to saying those simple words. It should have been the first words out of your mouth.

Here is your link for today’s BraudCast

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