A Case for Crisis Communication Plans

Time and time again, we see the best communicators make a crucial and costly misstep when it comes to managing the flow of information during a crisis. With social media adding new minefields, a solid crisis communications plan is a mandatory step in any company’s planning procedures, say these experts.

“The ability to communicate well during a crisis greatly affects a brand’s ability to overcome the event and survive after it,” wrote Mike Crawford, president of public relations, social media and advertising agency M/C/C in an article on BizJournals.com. He recommends three steps:

1. Prepare. Crawford advises that a communications plan must include roles for each team member, primary and secondary contacts, and how to define different levels of crisis (one for local media, two for national and international) and how to respond. Also, he said, designate an informed and media-savvy spokesperson. Make sure they are the contact point, and that your phone and email addresses are up to date.

2. Act. Have templates and statements ready for use when the time comes, but remember to be empathetic, said Crawford. “Remember to keep the personality of the brand while going through a crisis. If a situation allows for humor, then do not be afraid to use it,” he wrote.

3. Distribute. Make sure the distribution channel is appropriate to where the crisis started, said Crawford, whether print, television or social media.

Paula Hahn of Blink Communications has some strategies of her own. In an article in Food Processing magazine, she lays out five points to consider.

1. A crisis negatively impacts company valuation

“Consider a crisis communications plan an investment in brand reputation, not an expense,” she wrote. “The faster a company can tame a crisis, the faster stock price and sales revenues can rebound.”

2. Social media keeps the crisis alive

Hahn cited a global survey of senior crisis communications advisers by international law firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer [FBD] that said 28 per cent of crises reported spread globally within an hour, and up to 69 per cent in 24 hours. The response time for legally approved comments from the companies? 21 hours.

3. Crises do a number on brand equity, too

The problem with a crisis is the perception fueled by social media posts being valued over statements from the company, said Hahn.

4. It’s impossible to prepare for and manage a crisis concurrently.

Don’t wait until you’re in the middle of a crisis to manage it, said Hahn. “There are so many moving parts to a crisis plan (message development, spokesperson coaching, regulatory notifications, product recalls, internal investigations, press conferences, stakeholder communication, media monitoring, social media management and more) that it can’t all be done in real time,” she wrote.

5. How a company handles a crisis counts more than the crisis itself.

If you botch the landing, you’ll never recover, according to Hahn, citing the BP oil spill and its mismanaged communications. “The company is still trying to recover from the estimated $43 billion hit in fines, legal settlements and clean-up costs, while the damage to brand equity is incalculable,” she wrote.