Critical elements of a crisis communications plan

During a crisis, it’s important for organizations to have a plan to manage crisis communications that both limits impact to reputational risk and focuses on future litigation risk. A crisis has the potential to:

  • Negatively affect the reputation of the organization.
  • Significantly disrupt internal operations.
  • Draw increased pressure from the community and the media.

For organizations that don’t plan ahead and create a crisis communications plan, the risk is a crisis situation that spins out of control, leaving leadership of the organization trying to play catch up while the crisis is quickly rolling down the hill faster and faster out of their grasp. Though a crisis communications plan cannot prevent a crisis from happening, it can provide a framework for an organization to be able to tackle and manage most situations with a focus on staying ahead of the story. Here at The Fearey Group, we help clients build crisis communications plans that can be implemented during a crisis of any size. The critical elements of any crisis communications plan we create include:

  1. The Policy – The crisis communications policy outlines:
    1. Who in the organization serves as the members of the crisis communications team?
    2. Who is authorized to serve as a spokesperson in a time of crisis?
    3. How will the crisis communications plan be activated? Who has the authority to call the team together?
    4. Where will the crisis communications team assemble during the crisis?
  2. The Evaluation – Not every situation is a crisis, so it’s important to define how to evaluate if a situation merits the activation of the crisis communications plan. During this initial discussion, lead members of the crisis team should ask the following questions:
    1. When did the incident/event occur?
    2. What is the impact on the organization? Key internal/external audiences?
    3. What actions have been taken to-date since the crisis began?
    4. What are the potential short-term impacts?
    5. Does the organization need outside counsel or communications assistance?
    6. Who are the subject matter experts we need to include in discussions moving forward?
    7. Who are the additional organizations needed to be included in discussions moving forward?
    8. Who are the key internal/external audiences?
  1. The Response Plan – If the situation is defined as a crisis for the organization, the crisis team should begin its response to evaluate the needed communications response. This should include:
    1. Begin media/social media monitoring
    2. Create a situation summary that can be regularly updated during the response
    3. Create overall key messages and break out for individual internal/external audiences
    4. Identify the communications response mechanism(s)
      1. Press conference
      2. Proactive media statement
      3. Reactive media statement
      4. Organization’s website
      5. Social media pages
  1. The Template Materials – Each crisis situation will dictate a different response. To prepare, create template of your most common materials that can be filled in as appropriate for each situation. This could include:
    1. Sample press releases
    2. Sample website language
    3. Sample social media updates
    4. Organization fact sheet
    5. Local and regional media list

Once you’ve created your crisis communications plan, it’s essential that you are consistently updating and practicing its policies and procedures. Anticipate crisis situations that might impact the organization and create template materials that can be used and updated for each situation. Then remember to practice each of these situations in drills with the crisis communications team on at least a quarterly basis. Again, this is not a way to stop a crisis from happening – but it can help prepare an organization to focus on an effective response during a crisis, thus mitigating reputational and legal risks. Need a crisis plan? Want us to audit your current plan? Reach out to us today for a no-obligation discussion on your crisis planning needs.