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A Crisis Plan vs. a Crisis Communications Plan

Gerard Braud Crisis Communications PlanBy Gerard Braud

One of the greatest problems in crisis management today is a lack of consistent definitions and names for the various plans needed by a business. You may read this and recognize you don’t have what you need.

Crisis Plan

Many companies have a document that they call a “Crisis Plan.” What they actually have is a rudimentary public relations 101 outline that will fail them in a time of crisis. It does not contain the elements needed to communicate honestly and rapidly when adrenaline is flowing and emotions are high. Since 2005 I have been sharing links to copies of such plans that I have found on the internet, as I admonish companies that such a document is a recipe for disaster. Sadly, this is the same type of document used by Virginia Tech on the day of their shooting.

Emergency Operations Plans, Incident Command Plans & NIMS Plans

Other businesses claim to have a Crisis Plan, which might better be defined as an Emergency Operations Plan, Incident Command Plan or NIMS Plan. Such plans coordinate police, fire, EMS and rescue. Generally these plans have no communications instructions in them as it relates to communicating with the media, your employees or other key audiences. Hence, when news crews show up at the scene, responders and executives are thrown for a loop and caught off guard. Some of these plans make provisions to communicate via text messaging, but they fail to provide all of the communications systems provided by a true crisis communications plan.

Gerard Braud Crisis Plan VideoCrisis Communications Plan

A Crisis Communications Plan is a step-by-step manual that tells you what to do, what to say and when to say it. All decisions are made on a clear sunny day when you are of sound mind and body — free of the adrenaline and emotions that exist on the day of a crisis. Pre-written news release templates are created for a wide variety of crisis scenarios. When the crisis strikes, communications can happen rapidly because of the fill-in-the-blank format of the templates. The goal is to communicate with critical audiences, such as media, employees and others within one hour of the onset of the crisis.

What You Can Have Completed in Just 2 Days

Next week in New Orleans you can have the correct plan – a Crisis Communications Plan – and you can have it completed in just two days. The system I’ve created is designed to be so simple that if you can read, you can execute the plan. You do what it says to do on page one, and then turn to page two. You do what it says to do on page two, and then turn to page three and so on. Its sequential instructions make it thorough, yet easy to use.

When the time comes to write and issue a news release, you simply turn to your library of pre-written news releases. Within minutes you are able to share the news release with the media, post it to the web, e-mail it to employees and other key stakeholders, and post messages on social media directing people to your website for official information.

Why Communications Often Fails During a Crisis

It takes a lot of time to write a news release from scratch, and then get it through the approval process of executives and the legal staff. My system works because it uses pre-written templates that have been approved by leaders and the legal staff. The messages have also been tested during a crisis drill. On the day of the crisis you simply fill in the blanks of the who, what, when, where, why and how and you are ready to communicate honestly and in a timely manner. Often timely communications is a matter of life and death.

To discuss this more, call me at 985-624-9976. You can also learn more here.

Social Media When It Hits the Fan: NRECA Connect ’14 Conference Teach Back

By Gerard BraudCONNECT14 TWIT5

Last week at the NRECA Connect 14 Conference in San Antonio, Texas, you participated in the  “Social Media When It Hits the Fan” presentation.

Now I want to help you encourage your co-op managers to be better prepared for crisis communications, as well as to better understand social media and where social media fits into your crisis communications plan. My goal is for you to conduct a teach-back, at your electric cooperative, that mimics my presentation with the fan, the jump suits and the silly string. Remember to have a gallery of employees ready to capture the stunt and post it to social media, just as we did. Additionally, challenge your leaders to write a news release on a blank piece of paper, just as we did in the presentation.

If you’d like me to do the same presentation live for your statewide meeting of communicators, managers, and or CONNECT14 TWIT PIC2board members, please call me at 985-624-9976. I’d be honored to serve you.

So you can show your executives how fast social media spreads news about an event, I’ve included a few samples of the Twitter feed about the event, along with photos and videos posted by your fellow communicators. You can search for more online.

Finally, some of you asked about my program that allows your cooperative to write and complete a crisis communications plan in just two days. Details are on my website, but special pricing is available for co-ops. https://braudcommunications.com/crisis-communications/

CONNECT 14 TWIT PIC

Crisis Team Truths

DSC_0004By Gerard Braud

Many public relations people call their Crisis Communications Team a Crisis Team. The problem is, many other people in the same organization also claim to have a Crisis Team.

We have word confusion. Every company should have these teams:

1. Crisis Management Team

2. Crisis Communications Team

3. Incident Command Team or Emergency Response Team

4. Risk Management Team or Business Continuity Team

A proper crisis response structure would work as follows:

The Crisis Management Team would be lead by the CEO or his/her designee. This team includes members of the Crisis Communications Team, the Incident Command Team or Emergency Response Team, and the Risk Management Team or Business Continuity Team. One or two other key people would be on this team. The overall job of this team is to manage and end the crisis.

9thWard-KatrinaVersary-Media_0379The Crisis Communications Team is responsible for spreading the world that a crisis has occurred and what is being done to resolve the situation and return to normal. This team communicates with the media, employees, customers and other key stakeholder groups.

The Incident Command Team or Emergency Response Team responds to the crisis. Their job is to end the emergency and return things to normal.

The Risk Management Team or Business Continuity Team keeps the company running, keeps the supply chains open, and keeps the company profitable.

In the world of public relations, something may be a crisis which will trigger the Crisis Communications Plan and Crisis Communications Team. In this case, the Emergency Response is not needed and Business Continuity is not needed. A sexual harassment case would be an example. By my definition, a crisis is anything that affects reputation and/or revenue. Sometimes it is a sudden crisis, such as a fire and explosion. Other times it is a smoldering crisis that is not an emergency, but could harm reputation and/or revenue.

To avoid confusion, call the teams by their proper terms and never call them a Crisis Team.

Are your teams named correctly?

 

 

 

 

Crisis Plan Truths

crisis truth blogBy Gerard Braud

Many public relations people who need a Crisis Communications Plan search for the words “crisis plan.” This leads to problems.

Sometimes, as soon as you type the word “crisis,” your browser will auto fill with these options:

Crisis Plan Template

Crisis Plan Free Template

Crisis Management Plan

Crisis Communications Plan (with an “s”)

Crisis Communication Plan (with no “s”)Crisis comm

Crisis Expert

Crisis Communications Expert (with an “s”)

Crisis Communication Expert (with no “s”)

School Crisis Plan

Crisis Intervention Plan

The list goes on. Try it.

In public relations we face a problem with terminology. Did you know that people in the business continuity world, the emergency response world, and the public relations world all generically use the term Crisis Plan, yet each document is very different?

Likewise, there are many bad examples on the web of documents that serve no real purpose. This one has been at the top of the list for years.

I guess this is what most people think a Crisis Communications Plan is because they find it on the web and it is free. I think of this as only a list of standard operating procedures, yet it is far short of what I prescribe as a Crisis Communications Plan.

For a short time my website was #2, behind this site. However, I slipped in the SEO after a website server glitch.

Bottom line – if you are in PR, please call your document a Crisis Communications Plan. If you are in business continuity, please call your plan a “risk management plan” or a “business continuity plan.” If you are in emergency response, please call your plan either an “emergency operations plan, emergency management plan or an incident command plan.”

Every organization should have all three plans.

Do you have all three plans where you work?

 

 

 

GM Hires Crisis Communication Expert

By Gerard Braud

GM Crisis ExpertGM has hired a Crisis Communication Expert to help the company communicate their way out of a crisis surrounding their faulty ignition switches, according to headlines.

Why do companies hire crisis communications experts after a crisis?

Why don’t companies hire a crisis communications expert before they ever have a crisis?

Why don’t companies write crisis communications plans so that they can manage a crisis and the communications on their own?

The story of crisis communications is much like the movie Groundhog Day. I feel like Bill Murray’s character, living the same story daily. That is because every day, another company announces they are hiring a crisis communications expert to magically make everything better after corporate executives allowed a crisis to happen.

Here is an open letter about crisis communication to corporate leaders:

Dear Corporate Executives,

Many of you make bad decisions every day. You put profits before people and when you do, you have the recipe for a disaster. GM executives decided not to spend 57-cents per car, in order to replace faulty ignition switches, because they thought it would cost too much. If they had spent the money, then:

  • People would not have died
  • A crisis would not have happened
  • The company’s reputation would not have been damaged
  • The company would not be paying untold millions to fight or settle cases
  • The company would not be getting grilled by congress
  • The head of GM would not be the butt of jokes for every late night talk show

Corporate executives should hire a crisis communication expert before a crisis happens.

Corporate leaders should hire a crisis communication expert to make sure their company has a properly written crisis communications plan.

Corporate leaders should stop relying on someone with a spreadsheet to make decisions about revenue that will later damage the company’s reputation.

Corporate leaders should hire a crisis communications expert to be the cynic at the table. That way, spreadsheet decisions do not lead to revenue decisions that have short-term gains and eventually cause long-term damage to both reputation and revenue.

Corporate executives should commit to protecting their reputation and revenue by having a crisis communication plan that guides their decision making before a crisis happens, during a crisis, and after a crisis

Postpone Your Crisis: Crisis Communication Wisdom with a Twist

By Gerard Braud Consider this: scheduling your crisis may be the wave of the future. Rather than being ambushed and surprised by a sudden crisis, which forces you into crisis communication, considerK2 copyBy Gerard Braud

Consider this: scheduling your crisis may be the wave of the future. Rather than being ambushed and surprised by a sudden crisis, which forces you into crisis communication, consider the model used by many of your leaders who ignore my plea to plan for the worst.

Here is how it works. Many public relations people have e-mailed me to say that they cannot conduct media training or crisis communication training with their executives because the executives do not have time. Often these public relations people are asking for only a single day for media training. Sometimes they are asking for two days to write a crisis communications plan. Regardless of which communication training you ask for, there are always too many other projects more important than preparing to effectively communicate in a crisis. Hence, if an executive does not have time to schedule the training for the skills that would be mandatory in order to protect the profits and reputation of their company during a crisis, it only makes sense to declare that no crises should take place unless it is scheduled.

So next time you want to schedule media training or crisis communication training and you are told there is no time on the schedule because we have too many higher priority projects, just ask your executives when they would like to schedule their crisis?

Sure, it has been said that, “If you fail to plan, than plan to fail.” But under this new crisis communication model, we could simply say, “Plan to fail.”

If you’ve ever been told there is no time on the schedule for communication training, please share this article with the person who told you that, then send their reaction to me.

The Great Crisis Communication Lie: A Plan Can’t Anticipate Everything

Crisis Communication movie gerard braud

Click image to watch video

By Gerard Braud

It’s been said that the person who says something can’t be done is always right.

Does this adage apply to crisis communication and crisis communications plans?

The Malaysia Airlines crisis and communication challenges with the media and families have many in public relations saying, “This is unprecedented. You can’t prepare for this.”

Pardon me, but that’s bull$h*t.

As a defiant, non-conformist, contrarian, nothing inspires me to do something more than doing something they said couldn’t be done.

If you want to prepare and you are willing to put forth the effort, you can write a crisis communications plan and a library of pre-written news releases that will serve you in any crisis. Public relations people without the expertise, who are unwilling to put forth the effort, take the easy way out by saying, “It can’t be done.”

Here is the backstory of how defiance turned into a process that allowed public relations teams to put an effective crisis communications plan in place in as few as two days

In 1996, I begin doing extensive research on crisis  communications plans and found each plan repeated the same flaws as the ones before it. All conformed to public relations standards of then and today. Being a contrarian, I researched the common communications mistakes made in each crisis. I poured over case studies from when I was a member of the media. I analyzed why spokespeople said dumb things to me in most crises when I was a television reporter. I analyzed why corporations were slow to communicate about each crisis.

Malaysia-BlogThe pain, problems, and predicaments of the communicator and the corporation were scrutinized. Once this was done, I began to work backwards, with the end in mind. Multiple end points were identified, which consisted of the intervals at which a statement would need to be made by a company to the media, a company’s employees, and the stakeholders most affected by the crisis.

From 1996 – 2004, I wrote crisis communications plans for a wide variety of businesses, government agencies, and non-profit organizations. The process often took a year of collaboration, which for me was too long. Dealing with the slow pace of corporate collaboration didn’t fit my personality, despite the large sums of money companies would pay for a year’s worth of work.

In 2004, while spending six months recovering from a near-death-illness, I began looking for the fastest way to deliver a crisis communications plan. I had so many plans written that I was able to condense the crisis communications plan writing process down to two intense days of a group writing retreat. I provided the expertise and base documents, while the public relations team provided a workforce to modify the documents.

Malaysia blog 2

Ten years later, the plan still works in every crisis. Granted, the base crisis communications plan is a living document that undergoes constant modification to incorporate the ever-growing list communications outlets, such as social media.

The reality is, you don’t know how every crisis will unfold. The secret is to understand the intervals at which you must communicate to key audiences. You must make sure your crisis communications plan has a system in place to gather information, confirm information, then release that information.

The biggest breakthrough for me was unlocking the secret to creating a library of pre-written news releases that lives in the addendum of each plan. Starting with the end in mind, I was able to analyze the questions that get asked in every news conference by the media. Based on those questions and a clear understanding of how journalists will

write their news reports, I was able to create a series of statements that include multiple-choice and fill-in-the-blank options.

Some of my pre-written news releases have as few as five paragraphs while others have more than 30 paragraphs. Some pre-written news releases are for an event that can be handled with a single press release. Others are three-part releases that can be used to issue advisories before, during, and after an event, such as for an electric company dealing with a winter storm. Still others must exceed three parts, such as an ongoing crisis similar to Malaysia Airlines. These pre-written news releases can usually be edited and released in as few as ten minutes. This is in stark contrast to the typical problem of a public relations person sitting before a blank computer screen and writing from scratch, then facing hours of revisions and hours of delayed communications.

What are the constant realities for the company you work for? The reality for every airline is that they may experience a crash. Virtually every set of scenarios can be broken down into fill-in-the-blank and multiple-choice options.

A crisis communications plan can be structured to identify your key audiences, the various ways you must communicate to those audiences, and the frequency of your communications.

Is writing this type of crisis communications plan easy? My original plan took about 1,000 hours to develop – that’s six months. Since then, it has evolved with many more hours.

Today, it is ready to launch and implement in as few as two days. If you would like to know more, call me.

Analyses of case studies in your industry will show you the communications flaws of those who came before you so you can modify your crisis communications plan in such a way that those flaws are eliminated.

If you think it can’t be done, you are correct for yourself. You are not, however, correct for everyone.

Those who are willing to prepare can be prepared and they will communicate effectively when “it” hits the fan. Others, however, will make the same mistakes so many before have made, who have thrown up their hands and said it can’t be done.

Citizen Journalism: How Breaking News Got Broken and 5 Things You Need to Do Now

By Gerard Braud

Gerard Braud * 15Watch the news coverage as winter storms move across the United States, leaving many people without power in the cold for up to two weeks. Much of this story is being told through the eyes of the so-called, “citizen journalists.”

Citizen journalism is one of the reasons breaking news got broken. While corporate communicators, corporate executives and corporate lawyers haggle over every word and comma in a news release, eye witnesses to news events are posting their pictures and videos online with astounding speed.

Corporations around the world need to wake up. They need to rethink their approach to media relations and crisis communications. They need to think and act like citizen journalists. They need to post fast to the web.

Learn more at this Free Webinar on Thursday, December 12, 2013

When I hear a corporate communicator tell me, “Our people will never let us do that,” my first instinct is to channel my inner Ron Burgundy because, “I’d like to punch you in the spleen.” Trust me, in 1994 I heard these same people telling us that we couldn’t use e-mail and websites. They were wrong then and they are wrong now.

But seriously – stop saying you can’t. Here are 5 things to consider.

us-airways#1 The Miracle on the Hudson

When U.S. Airways had a jet full of people land in the Hudson River in the media capitol of the world, all of the world’s media used the same image taken by a guy with a smart phone who posted the image to Twitter. I’d wager that U.S. Airways might have not even known they had lost a plane when those first images hit Twitter. You must be that fast to post images of your own news events.

#2 The Virginia Tech Massacre

On that sad day when 32 people died at Virginia Tech, University officials were slow to meet, slow to make decisions, and slow to issue both news releases and emergency communications to their student body. Instead, an engineering student used his smart phone to capture video of police officers on campus as 26 gunshots from the gunman are heard on the video. There was no national VT Cell Phonenews media on the campus at that moment, yet when the students uploaded his video to CNN iReports, the media had all they needed to tell the story from a location where no media would have been allowed. You must be that fast to post video of your own news events.

#3 Stop Analyzing Words and Commas

After more than 30 years in communications, I still don’t understand why corporations spend so much time scrutinizing a written news release, only to have the spokesperson say dumb, un-vetted comments in an interview. If the interview isn’t going to match the written news release then stop spending so much time on the news release and spend that time in media training with the spokesperson.

#4 Stop Writing News Releases from Scratch

Every crisis communications plan should have a huge library of pre-written and pre-approved news releases that can be easily modified through strategically placed fill-in-the-blanks and multiple-choice options. If 100 things could go wrong in your organization, you should have 100 pre-written news releases. The pre-approval process will allow them to be posted to the web and read to the media in less than one hour of the onset of your news event or crisis.

#5 Practice

To be as good as a citizen journalist you must have the necessary Facebook, YouTube and Twitter accounts set up. You must set up accounts with CNN iReports and other media uploading profiles. You need the right phone or tablet device and it must be configured to interface with your social media accounts. You need Skype for live reports. Here is the big one – you must practice your performance on camera as well as your ability to share and publish online from your smart device. This isn’t easy to do, yet you must do it and make it look easy.

The bottom line is someone will be telling your story. It can be an uninformed, yet technologically advanced eye-witness, or it can be an official source who understands the technology, as well as good media relations and crisis communications.

Who will tell your next story?

Want to learn more? Register for this free CommPro.Biz webinar on December 16, 2013 at 1 p.m. EDT

Register here

 

 

 

Experts in Crisis Communication Agree: Home Depot Tweet Gone Wrong: 5 Things Your Public Relations Team Should Do Right Now

HD TweetBy Gerard Braud

Experts in crisis communication know social media in corporate communications is highly likely to lead to a crisis. I would say more brands are likely to be harmed than helped by a social media brand page.

Home Depot leaders acted swiftly to fire an outside agency and an employee who posted a picture on Twitter that depicted two black drummers and a third drummer with a monkey mask, with the tweet, “Which drummer is not like the others?”

Good job Home Depot for acting swiftly. Good job Home Depot for terminating the agency and personnel who clearly don’t understand the need to think before Tweeting.

Immediately there were cries of racism. The drummers were beating on Home Depot plastic buckets and sitting in front of a promotional banner for Home Depot’s sponsorship of College Game Day.

To their credit, Home Depot used the same offending brand Twitter page to post an apology that said, “We have zero tolerance for anything so stupid and offensive. Deeply sorry. We terminated agency and individual who posted it.”

HD Appology tweetI love that in a world where lawyers don’t let public relations employees say “sorry,” that Home Depot uses the word “sorry.” I love that they use the word “stupid.” The tweet apology is well written and conveys the anger the company feels toward the offending agency and employee.

HD FacebookHome Depot uses a Facebook and YouTube brand page, but nothing is posted there relating to the Tweet. The Home Depot home page and Media Center also have no news releases or apologies.

From a crisis communication perspective, in this case I think I agree with the Home Depot public relations and crisis communication strategy to confine the crisis to only the offending branch of social media and not bring it over to Facebook or YouTube. However, now that the story is making headlines in newspapers and morning television, I think an apology in the corporate Media Center newsroom on their primary website would be in order. In fact, I would have put up a news release apology in the corporate site newsroom within minutes of issuing the apology tweet. By the way, in the crisis communication plan system that I suggest you have, such an apology would be pre-written and pre-approved on a clear sunny day… written months ago and waiting in the addendum of your crisis communication plan.

HD Homepage 2In a crisis, it is important to tell the story from your perspective and to own the search engine optimization (SEO) for your brand and your story. Posting in your corporate newsroom helps with this. Failure to do so sends anyone searching for information to other pontifications, reports and blogs… like this one.

What should you do in your brand?

1)  Review your social media policy and make it tough. The social media policies that we write at Braud Communications on behalf of our clients are brutally tough.

 

2)  Terminate those who post recklessly.

 

HD snarky tweets3) Pre-determine whether a social media crisis requires response on all social media channels or only the offending channel.

 

4) Pre-determine if your home page newsroom will be used for an apology. I think it should be used.

 

5) Consider establishing a rule that two to three internal eyes need to review every social media post before anyone hits send. Make sure those 2 to 3 people represent the cultural and age diversity of your audience. In the case of Home Depot, it was clear that the age or cultural background of the person who posted this tweet was such that it likely never crossed their mind that this tweet might be considered racist.

As crisis communication case studies go, I’ll say Home Depot is handling this one well.

 

Crisis Communications for Schools Part 2: Defining a Crisis and a Crisis Plan

By Gerard Braud

For the purpose of our discussion in these articles, we will define a crisis this way:

StudentsGerardBraudA crisis is any incident that may seriously affect the safety, function, operation, reputation and/or revenue of any organization, public or private.

We will not debate or parse words as to whether what is called a crisis in this article might otherwise be called a situation, incident, event or any other synonym. Furthermore, we will divide our crises into two types: sudden crises and smoldering crises. A sudden crisis has a sudden flash point, such as a school shooting, tornado, fire, or explosion. A smoldering crisis might involve a labor dispute, issues of discrimination, and incidents of executive misbehavior such as embezzlement or sexual misconduct. In a smoldering crisis, details are known to internal decision makers, but not yet known to the public.

In our last article, we introduced you to the concept of the text messaging notification system and the crisis communications plan. While a text message notification system is intended for use in only a sudden crisis, the crisis communications plan can be used to communicate vital information for both a smoldering and a sudden crisis.

Confusion in “Crisis Plans” – Defining a Crisis Communications Plan

A great flaw in schools, in corporations, and in the world of emergency response is the generic use of the term “crisis plan” and crisis team. A crisis plan is not the same as a crisis communications plan. Each school and school system must operate with a collection of three unique plans that are executed by three unique teams, with each team being composed of individuals with specific skills and areas of expertise. Although the plans each serve a unique purpose, they are also designed to be executed in unison without any plan overriding or contradicting the directives of another.

The three types of plans needed are:

1) An Incident Command Plan, which is sometimes called the Emergency Response Plan, Coordinates police, fire and rescue. It is executed by the Incident Command Team.

2) A Risk Management Plan, which is sometimes called a Business Continuity Plan, ensures the components of the business operations are restored following a crisis, including identifying alternate facilities and supply chains. The Risk Management Plan is executed by the Risk Manager.

3) A Crisis Communications Plan, dictates prescribed measures for communicating accurate and timely information to key audiences, including parents, students, employees, the media and other stakeholders. It includes the components of public relations, media relations and stakeholder relations, and is executed by the Crisis Communications Team.

TulaneGerardBraudAll plans and all actions during a crisis should be managed by the Crisis Management Team.

Further confusion takes place in this area when the incident command plan makes reference to crisis communications. Usually this refers to details about radio systems and other technology used for interactive communications among emergency responders. This confusion must be avoided. We must emphasize that in this document, crisis communications is a function of public relations, media relations, employee relations, and social media management.

A sudden crisis, such as a school shooting or tornado would trigger all three plans. But a smoldering crisis such as an accusation of sexual harassment, would trigger the use of only the crisis communications plan, without causing a need to use the incident command plan or the risk management plan.

Your assignment for this article is to have a discussion with the leaders in your organization to identify the types of plans you have. If you think you have a crisis communications plan, I will be giving you come criteria in future articles by which you can determine if your plan is written properly.

You can also email a copy of your plan to me at gerard@braudcommunications.com and I will be happy to give you 15 minutes of free feedback.