Understanding the hallmarks of a true crisis situation is key to developing an effective crisis management plan. Unlike one or even a series of unflattering news stories, true crisis situations disrupt the normal flow of business operations and, as a result, call for a response strategy beyond battling negative press. While no two situations are identical, organizations with crisis plans in place stand a much better chance of weathering the storm and long-term reputation survival.
Gather information, articles, case studies and analyses about recent crises affecting organizations both inside and outside of your industry. Note best-practice recommendations and any common pitfalls.
Take a hard look at your organization and identify issues that could develop into crisis situations. Issues can span the organization and may include company leadership conduct concerns, a growing list of safety violations or a stream of negative news stories.
With issues identified, note which issues require an additional noncommunications response, such as help from medical or law enforcement professionals. Secure additional training or identify personnel in advance to help anyone physically or mentally hurt by a crisis situation.
Prepare a public communication strategy for each crisis category. Components of a communication strategy include talking points, websites, fact sheets, information hot lines and, most importantly, the identification of a spokesperson.
Nail down logistics for both the media and those affected by the crisis. For example, identify a room or rooms that could be easily transformed into a press area and plan for reporter needs such as connectivity, space for satellite trucks and interview space. Contract with area hotels to provide rooms or a safe and private space for victims or family members.
Consider the possibility of hiring outside specialists and explore crisis-communication consulting firms. Even the best-prepared organizations may need outside help if the size and scope of the crisis is outside of the organization's response ability.
Staying on top of crisis management best practices and lessons learned is a critical but often overlooked aspect of effective planning. Many trade associations, such as The Center for Association Leadership, offer industry-specific advice on navigating a crisis. Academic journals, such as Communications Quarterly, contain research and in-depth analyses of crises and other communication issues. Online searches of mainstream media websites turn up information and analysis of high-profile crisis incidents.
While crisis management planning often begins in the communications department, the most effective plans are created with support from organizational leaders. After creating a draft, solicit input and feedback from department heads.
Technology improvements, employee turnover and changing expectations about how organizations communicate mean that crisis management plans become stale quickly. An effective plan should be updated on a regular basis. Updates may include lessons learned from other crisis incidents or changes in contact information.
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