Crisis Communications: How to Prepare in Advance

Posted by Mitchell Communications Group on May 23, 2013

One of my colleagues is fond of saying, “You must build the ark before it starts to rain.” Nowhere is that more true than when developing a crisis plan.

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A crisis calls for you to start out fast and continue to pick up speed. To dawdle is to invite others to enter the conversation and control the outcome. A poorly handled crisis can become a sustained crisis lasting for weeks, months or even years.

Before a crisis arises, you need to identify your crisis team – the people you want in the room to discuss your response. Representatives from company management, communications and legal most commonly are involved. If yours is an organization with multiple locations, you should include a representative from the site affected by the crisis or event. Together, this group will formulate specific messaging and a response plan that, once complete, can be shared with the public via traditional and social media.

You also want to identify spokespeople who can address the various facets of your organization from the commonplace to the technical. These people should participate in spokesperson training so that when a crisis arises, they are comfortable and calm no matter the situation. They don’t just convey information; they communicate with a purpose and represent the organization in the process. They must engender trust.

Other tips include:

  • Craft a spokesperson policy that includes who is authorized to talk about what. Educate others within the company about the policy and provide them with language to properly direct a media inquiry. It is important that all designated spokespeople maintain updated contact information on readily accessible internal phone lists so they can be reached on a moment’s notice.
  • Develop a rapid-response news release template. This three- to five-paragraph document provides the very basic information people will need about the crisis or event including the who, what and where of the situation. There also may be some standard language included about safety of employees, customers, visitors and others, as well as information about what will happen next.
  • Write preliminary messages, especially if yours is an organization where certain crises are more likely to occur such as an airport, manufacturing plant or construction company. These can be assembled into a stand-alone statement or incorporated into the rapid-response release mentioned earlier.

The Chinese use two characters to write the word “crisis.” One character means danger and the other opportunity. In a crisis, be aware of the danger but recognize the opportunity.

In what ways is your company prepared for a crisis? Let us know in the comments below, or tweet us your response using the hashtag #mcgblog.