How many times have you heard the saying, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”
I know. I know. You’re all giving me the eye roll and thinking, “Yeah, yeah.” Well, humor me and ask yourself: Do I know my company’s crisis communication plan? Do we even have one? If the answer is no to either of those, take a few minutes to at least outline a course of action for what you will do if the worst occurs. My goal is for you to take away why they’re necessary and at least have guidance on what a crisis plan would include. So, let’s get started.
Crisis communication plans are a necessity no matter what business you are in because well, mistakes, accidents, incidents happen, unfortunately. So, the question is, what is your plan? And where do you start?
In my opinion, the reason many businesses fail to have a plan in place is because the word crisis is so broad and maybe feels overwhelming. To help, I would encourage business owners to drill it down to this – any situation that could negatively impact your business warrants a crisis communication plan. For example, firing an employee or an unexpected resignation can certainly become a crisis if not handled properly. I use this as an example because it is likely to be a scenario that all businesses face at some time or another.
Your first step will be identifying possible what-if scenarios. We all have nightmares and some of us fret more than others, but regardless of where you fall on the spectrum (from laissez fare to Doom’s Day survivalist) you can knock out a list of crises you might need to address that is specific to your company/business. No matter what the scenario is however, my opinion is that the key to any good crisis plan is one that addresses your most important audience… your employees!
1. Have an internal communication plan. Your employees are your most important audience.
How will you inform your employees about negative situations that might occur? What will be communicated? And just as important, what will they in turn be allowed to communicate to others? It’s just human nature to be curious, so you need to consider how you will contain that curiosity and squash the rumor mill. Keep it simple. When they walk away from the email or meeting (however you choose to disseminate your information), they should have the information you felt was important and feel empowered to know what they’re allowed to say.
Alright, now you know how you will communicate with your employees; next you need to consider the other stakeholders necessary to inform. Again, hearing the phrase crisis communication plan may sound like you need to communicate with everyone, but I want you to focus on who is important to YOUR business.
2. Identify other stakeholders you need to inform/communicate with.
So you’ve spoken with your employees and they’re now armed with the information they need to make sure there is continuity in what is communicated. Now it’s time to communicate with your other audiences. Consider asking yourself what your vendors, clients and/or customers need to know. I’m not advising to divulge every detail, but rather to provide the information that will make your stakeholders feel informed and valued. This information should align with what your employees have been told.
Also included in this step, be able to answer, “how will those stakeholders be informed and communicated with?”
After completing steps one and two, determine what, if anything, needs to be communicated to the general public and the news media.
3. General public.
Does this affect the public? How? Will the public be interested? These are all questions you should ask yourself when considering the development of your plan and with whom you would communicate. If the answer is yes to any of the above, make sure to have strategies in place to address this audience.
Of course, this should go without saying, but make sure that anything you are saying internally to employees and stakeholders mirrors what you will be saying to the general public. Otherwise, you risk creating a second crisis and extending the story.
In closing, I leave you with this thought. A crisis is like Monday. I don’t like them, but unfortunately, they still come around. It’s terrible to have to deal with a crisis of any kind. However, when you have a plan, it makes dealing with them much more manageable and can help to alleviate some of the stress you feel. When handled properly, you protect your brand and in some cases, can come out looking even better.
To see how a crisis communication plan can work for your benefit, check out how we helped Composite Effects (CFX) translate an unexpected crisis into thousands of dollars in earned media and community support, even resulting in the #ICareAboutCFX hashtag.