June 9, 2020

The principles of crisis communications planning


Adrian Ma

As PR professionals, we have a job to do: help navigate our organisations and clients back into recovery.

We can not understate the cost of an organisational crisis. The consequences of mishandling a crisis can range from loss of earnings, through to the collapse of the organisation, not to mention the potential negative impact on the physical or mental wellbeing of those involved. This is where your crisis communication plan comes into play. As PR professionals, we have a job to do: help navigate our organisations and clients back into recovery.

At Fanclub, we work with Richard Peel, one of the best minds in crisis management, to help our clients adopt best practices in preparing and managing crises. As such, we’ve captured his best advice to help answer some of the most important questions when it comes to planning for your next crisis.

What is a crisis communication plan?

A crisis communication plan outlines the procedures that enable an organisation to effectively respond during an emergency situation. Examples of possible crises in your business may include problems with a product, breakdown in service, data breach, technology failure, or an event as serious as a terrorist attack. As PR professionals, our job is to help navigate our organisations and clients back into recovery.

How do I prepare for a potential crisis?

Start by identifying potential threats that specifically relate to your organisation. You may identify some threats from the examples listed above, but it is also important to brainstorm hypotheticals and review case histories of similar organisations for instance. Doing this means you can begin to think about possible responses or work to implement preventative measures.

At Fanclub, we advise our clients to identify, monitor and then re-evaluate areas of risk on a regular basis. This way, crisis management will be at the forefront of the company, and you’ll be prepared for any potential disasters in your business way before you hit crisis mode.

How do I prepare my team for a crisis?

The first step is to establish a small team of senior executives to serve as your core Crisis Communications Team. In most cases, the organisation's CEO will lead the team with additional roles including (but not limited to) Spokesperson, Communications Lead, Media Relations lead, Employee Lead, Social Media Lead, Board Liaison and Investor Liaison.

Before any crisis occurs, clearly define each team member’s role (not titles), responsibilities, and determine how you’ll reach them in event of a crisis. Then together, you’ll need to agree; how the team will coordinate in a crisis, a backup plan, how the media/social media will be updated, how to protect customers, the team, and employees, whilst sharing key information.

What is media training? Is it important?

Yes, very important! All of your key-spokespeople should be media trained so that in an event of a crisis you immediately have individuals to call when requests come in for radio, TV or press interviews.

Media training typically involves a full-day session with a professional journalist. Through a series of mock interviews - whether being 1-2-1 broadcast, telephone or video link interviews - you’ll practice how to respond in the face of hostile questioning. By utilising frameworks such as the C.A.P process: Express Concern, Commit to Action, Offer Perspective, media training aims to help you better manage the flow of information and communicate key messages.

What are crisis communication procedures?

Crisis communication procedures ensure information is effectively gathered and communicated to the correct people in a timely manner. For example, the Social Media Lead should follow the agreed protocol to feed information into teams about the online conversation, as Intelligence gathering is an essential component of both crisis prevention and crisis response.

Similarly, your Employee Lead should also follow to pre-agreed communication procedures to relay up-to-date information to your employees as a matter of priority over other stakeholders. It’s up to you to ensure that they receive the message you would like them to repeat elsewhere before they see, read, or hear it through the media.

What is post-crisis analysis? Why is it important?

Post-crisis analysis looks at what was done right and what was done wrong during the crisis in order to learn from the event and understand what could be done better next time. Conducting a thorough analysis of events will ensure your preparation for the next time around will be even more robust.

A post-crisis analysis should cover the effectiveness of all the crisis communication processes and structures, as well as an assessment of whether the crisis could have been averted earlier or prevented entirely. The assessment will provide a useful case history for both current and future management teams.

To learn more about crisis communications, read our whitepaper here or for more details on crisis planning workshops (run in-person or remotely), contact us at hello@fanclubpr.com.

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