How to create a crisis communications plan
Recent events will have forced many organisations to review their business continuity planning.
Thoughts will be turning to improvements in IT infrastructure, better financial forecasting, property management issues and so on.
But organisations should also make effective communication a priority if they want to come out of future crises with their reputation intact.
A robust crisis communications plan should be a key part of your business continuity planning, so here’s some tips for creating one.
Prepare for a wide range of threats
Any crisis plan should start with an understanding of the range of threats to business continuity an organisation could face.
These threats might include a catastrophic event like a fire or flood, but also more specific threats, such as the critical illness of a business leader, or a cyber security attack that compromises customer data.
Sitting down with your crisis team to ‘brainstorm’ things that could go wrong can be an eye-opening exercise, but it will allow you to understand your likely communications response should they ever become a reality.
Identify the right spokespeople
Depending on the size of the organisation, businesses should have several leaders with the right presentation and media skills to respond to a crisis. Boris Johnson’s hospitalisation during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the ability of other ministers and health experts to lead the government’s daily briefings, was a good example of this.
Consider who is appropriate for the range of demands, whether that’s the CEO as figurehead or a technical lead for more specific issues which need a deeper understanding of the subject.
Your crisis comms plan should consider the balance of skills and knowledge required in your organisation to make up the crisis team and what support they may need. Check if any of the team are media trained or is there a need for media training? Freshfield’s Paul Tustin has some top tips for preparing for media interviews during a crisis.
Reach people through the right channels
You should consider your different audiences and which channels are the most relevant for communicating with them in a range of different crisis scenarios.
For example, the way you will communicate with staff will be very different to the way you update customers or shareholders.
Social media is great for getting a message out quickly, but what about audiences that require more detailed, and perhaps sensitive information? A strong plan can provide a roadmap for communicating with your different audiences.
Keep everyone in the loop
A key feature of any crisis comms plan is how senior managers and key staff will keep in touch with each other to plan and deliver their response.
Thanks to WhatsApp, Zoom, Skype and a range of other apps, this is much easier than it used to be. However, the plan should spell out how this will be done and will ensure contact details for key staff members and a range of third-party suppliers are easily at hand. My colleague Simon Turner has produced a guide to internal communications during a crisis, which has more tips and advice.
Give it the right resources
A crisis comms plan should also consider practical issues, such as designating a secure room where the crisis team can meet. Does this room have the technology to communicate, for example the right hardware, software and connectivity? Also think about critical information including media, emergency services and key stakeholder contact details including email and phone.
Be aligned with partners
There may be other organisations involved in responding to the same crisis, such as the emergency services, local authorities, healthcare providers, trade or sector organisations. Check with them if there are matters of mutual interest or where you may be able to provide support and exchange information.
Prepare for the long haul
Business crises are rarely a flash in the pan. They usually have long-term repercussions and require a sustained and co-ordinated communications response. Therefore, a crisis comms plan should consider the different phases, such as what will happen in the immediate aftermath of a crisis emerging and then on to the various stages of recovery.
Another important factor is learning from previous crises, so a thorough debrief and evaluation exercise should take place to inform future planning.