How’s your crisis communications plan? If you said nonexistent you’re in good company. More than 40 percent of companies worldwide have no crisis communications plans and only one in three executives are confident that their current plan would be satisfactory if they had a crisis. This dose of reality was brought to you by the global PR and communications firm Burson-Marsteller from their survey of more than 200 companies worldwide in December 2013. And my bet is the numbers haven’t improved much since then. We’ve handled over 50 crises over the last 20 years and been asked to create only seven crisis communications plans.
Why so few? Two reasons:
- Executives are convinced nothing bad will happen to their company (and we all know how realistic that fantasy is)
- Executives don’t know where to start.
Our next few blog posts will deal with those behind Door #2 (because those who choose Door #1 are too sure of their positions to change…until a crisis hits).
All crisis plans are based on one basic principle: People will judge your company by the way it behaves under stress, so being prepared for that stress is the best way to safeguard your reputation. A crisis plan enables you to be more proactive than reactive during a critical incident. Sure, no plan can anticipate every crisis, but having a plan gives you a process to follow while formulating your response. Put it this way: wouldn’t you rather have a plan of action in case your house catches fire rather than scrambling around when it does?
Your plan must be rooted in your company’s mission and use your company’s ethics as its guiding principles. The ultimate key to success is being able to create a crisis response that’s fueled by your mission.
Now let’s talk about the bread and butter of the crisis plan.
Your first component is your team. In last month’s post, we covered this issue pretty thoroughly, so let’s just do a quick review: The goal in this step is to create a team of well-qualified, well-trained individuals who are armed and ready to handle their designated crisis management roles when called upon. At minimum, that team should include: a C-suite executive, in-house and outside counsel, PR professionals, your webmaster and the head of your social engagement team as well as a top-notch administrative support person. Check last month’s post for a more complete list.
The next order of business is determining a procedure for spotting a crisis in its earliest stages and knowing the triggers that tell you it’s time to mobilize the team. Since most companies are unable to visualize the worst, we put them through an exercise we call “Crisis Spotting” that helps them acknowledge the various calamities that could befall them. The exercise also helps them identify the crises with the most potential for long-term damage to their reputation. Once you acknowledge the possibility of these negative issues hitting, they are easier to spot as they approach. We like to say that it’s better to spot and extinguish a fire in the wastebasket instead of ignoring it until it’s an inferno.
In our next post, we’ll deal with next few building blocks of a crisis plan: identifying your target audiences and drafting key messages and initial responses. Stay tuned for more Fun and Games with Crisis Plans.