As part of our crisis comms series, we wanted to highlight the operational aspects of crisis comms planning and implementation. Whether you sit in a dual operations role or liaise with the ops team, you should approach crisis comms with the ‘A’s: Assess, Act and Appraise.
Fundamental to this is having a clear and robust crisis comms plan that details who the key players are, their roles, the actions needed, the statements to ready and the escalation process. This plan should be embedded in your organization and have senior-level buy-in.
You need to classify the incident via the escalation plan and prepare to take subsequent action. Is it a storm in a teacup or something that could damage your reputation? Will there be social media backlash, media enquiries or even a protest? The mightiest trees grow from the smallest acorns, so don’t be a victim of hindsight. Many of these questions will already be considered by the operational team, however, the comms team need to be aware of:
● What happened?
● Where and when?
● Who was affected?
● Who is involved?
● What is the impact/likely impact?
● Is there any immediate danger?
● Do we understand the entire issue?
Assuming you have your crisis plan, it’s now time to turn that plan into action. We’d recommend the following immediate actions:
- Consult with your PR agency – tell them the detail. NDAs should have already been signed, so don’t hold back, give them the whole truth
- Engage the leadership team on the comms output. Determine how the business will assess, address, and resolve the incident. The type, scale, scope, and severity of the incident or crisis will determine the response. Tasks should include:
- Communication to stakeholders, employees, and customers (if appropriate)
- An incident timeline
- Enlist independent experts – legal, technical assistance as needed
- In line with the plan, review and, if needed, update your statements and channels and then either engage or don’t engage with the media as required by the plan (if it is a storm in a teacup, there is no value in drawing attention to it)
Once the immediacy of the crisis has dissipated, regroup as a team to go over your process for crisis comms management and response. Consider what changes should be made and update this plan with those changes.
Additionally, someone should take point on documenting exactly what the process was for this crisis, alongside any successes, learnings, or shortcomings.
Finally, if any outstanding issues need to be addressed, or if further monitoring of communication/media is necessary, delegate resource to manage those tasks.
Taking the time to develop out your plan is so important. The effort will be invaluable in the heat of the crisis when calmness and consideration are some of the most sought after characteristics in a comms team. You cannot plan for every eventuality, but you can put in place processes that make the management of a crisis easier.