• Brian Conway

Crisis Communications: Being Prepared to Be Your Best

Updated: Jan 22

An angry customer, a data breach, a wave of negative reviews, misconduct allegations, a major supplier issue – the possibilities for a crisis to happen in today’s world are ever-expanding.

A crisis is typically defined as a significant threat to operations (and reputation) that can have negative short and long-term consequences if not handled properly. While there is no way to fully prepare for the impact of a major incident, brand crisis, or some other significant event, it is imperative that every member of an organization’s team be prepared to lend a hand should one arise.

Crisis communications plans are fundamental to any public-facing organization, and 78% of senior executives say that high-stakes issues planning is important. And yet a surprising number (45%) of them don’t have one.

Why is this so? There are a number of possible reasons that an organization might take pause. Non-public-facing organizations face a smaller threat than those engaging with customers and the public regularly, making crisis a lower priority; Lack of consensus by senior leadership that such a plan is needed; Lack of internal staff who can coordinate cross-departmental planning and response; Concern about time and budget to build the plan – in other words, it’s one more thing.

Sound familiar? Whatever reasons an organization may have, having a crisis communications plan is a must.

Recently, Wal-Mart found itself at the center of an unwanted ring of attention after two of its U.S. stores were linked to tragic gun violence – the latter affects all of us especially as the alleged shooter lived in Allen for some time. Leading Wal-Mart’s response was CEO Doug McMillan, and you can read more of it in his recent “letter to El Paso.”

Wal-Mart’s response exemplifies having a crisis communications plan a number of ways:

  • Facilitating overall communication between your organization and employees, constituents, partners, the media, and the public

  • Ensuring an effective response structure and chain of command for informing, input, and decision-making

  • Containing and/or minimizing brand-damaging media coverage

  • Ensuring that media coverage is as factual as possible

Three Key Phases of Crisis Communications

Preparedness | Having an always-on, routinely tested plan of action will ensure that all stakeholders are prepared to fulfill their key role(s).

Response | Without an agile, intuitive response strategy in place, you stand to lose the greatest amount of revenue and brand affinity in this phase.

Recovery | This is the final and most restorative phase of crisis and issues management but is almost entirely dependent upon navigating the response phase successfully.

If you do need to build a plan, here are some fundamental questions to ask yourself today:

  1. Do we have right tools to effectively monitor our reputation and take thoughtful action?

  2. Do we have a current crisis communications plan?

  3. Do we currently have all the right stakeholders to form a crisis response team?

  4. Have we identified the most likely crises (i.e. scenarios) that may occur for us?

  5. Do we have a framework to quickly centralize communications and rapidly respond?

  6. Do we have contact info for all necessary stakeholders?

  7. Are senior leaders committed to being transparent during a crisis?

  8. Do we have a way to evaluate and improve our crisis response?

The Bottom Line: While you may not need an exhaustive crisis communications plan for your organization – even a simple one can suffice – making sure that you have all of the groundwork in place in advance will ultimately save you time, money, and your reputation.

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