You never know when a crisis will occur, but you should always have multiple plans in your back pocket. Before you can create a crisis communications plan, you need to know what possible crises could arrive.
By knowing your company or organization and where problems may arise, you will be able to plan for and create the most effective plans. You should also sit down and ask the c-level executives what keeps them up at night.
Once you’ve identified any issues that may cause a problem in the future for your company or organization, it’s time to put together a plan and be prepared in case an emergency or crisis comes along.
Develop your tools:
When an emergency or crisis situation appears, who is the first person who will get that call? You need to prepare all people who will get touched during any crisis and do not keep your employees in the dark.
In order to prepare those who will be on the front lines, create general defer statement for them. Their deferral statement should be along the lines of, “May I get your name and phone number so I can pass it on to the right person to call you back?”
If your public relations, public information, or public affairs office will be the point of contact for all calls coming in, you should develop a general holding statement, stating that you are aware of the situation and currently looking into it.
What are your key messages? Make sure that your messages stay consistent, but remember the way you present them will be different depending on the platform that you are using.
Build Your Team:
Depending on the type of emergency or crisis, your team may differ, but you need to decide who will be the key members of your team that you will be leaning on.
Who will be your spokesperson? Will you have multiple spokespeople? It is important to keep a consistent face out in front, but depending on the situation, it may not create the best image to have your president or CEO out in front right away.
Who would the appropriate audience be for this specific emergency or crisis? Define them in your plan and explain why this is the target audience.
Here are a few “what if” scenarios for small businesses:
- What if you’ve made a publicly visible mistake on behalf of a client? What would you do to fix it? What would your plan be?
- What if someone is saying something negative about your products or services? Do you have in place to handle that?
- What if your external client has a crisis that was caused by an outside force? What do you do to help mitigate it for them?
Be sure that you have a plan in place to handle any situation that may accept your company.
It’s always better to be over prepared than under-prepared for any crisis or emergency situation and your plans will need to be updated from time to time. Small businesses need a crisis communications plan in place just like any large company because they rely on a smaller number of clients and are less resilient if something were to happen.
Hopefully you will never have to put your crisis communications plan in place, but if you do, here are six common mistakes that are made during an emergency or crisis:
- Responding too slowly
- Denying or finger pointing
- Stonewalling the press
- Being defensive
- Keeping your staff in the dark
- Believing that the crisis will simply go away.
Rebecca Sturtevant is a northern transplant living in the Deep South and currently working for a nonprofit in its public affairs department. She is a former Verge Pipe Media intern, current freelance consultant and Auburn University alumna.