In my previous post, I discussed the Malaysian Airlines crisis communications, and outlined two things you should do before a crisis:
- Inventory possible problems, and
- Identify the crisis communications team.
Here is more advice on what you should do before a crisis strikes.
Prepare your messages and materials.
To be sure that you will be ready when (and if) the time comes, develop your “crisis messages” and materials in advance. Specifically:
- Determine what information should remain confidential. Most organizations have some data they do not reveal. Identify those items in the plan. Of course, if your company is publicly traded, the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) mandates that information likely to affect the price of your stock must be made public immediately.
- Develop two to three messages for each type of crisis (e.g., “corporate scandal” or “earthquake”) and for each audience (e.g., employees or stockholders). Sample messages are:
- “Our main concern is for the welfare of our (employees, customers, shareholders, etc.). We’re doing all that we can for them at this point.”
- “This is what we know right now. As we get more information and verify its accuracy, we will pass it onto you.”
- Identify potential questions for each type of crisis and determine how you would answer them. For example, for a layoff, reporters might ask:
- How many people are affected?
- What kind of severance are you offering?
- Is out-placement assistance available?
- Does this mean the company is going broke?
- Are your executives taking pay cuts so that fewer people will be laid off?
- Identify the appropriate vehicles for communicating with each respective group (e.g., phone, email, text, tweets, blog, LinkedIn or Facebook postings, news conference or website).
- Draft fill-in-the-blanks news releases that can be adapted to fit the situation.The documentation should include a list of the preventive measures you’ve taken (e.g., anti-harassment education, fire drills) to avoid or mitigate a crisis. This list might identify some gaps in your planning, giving you the opportunity to remedy the situation. The information will also be critical during any crisis because it will demonstrate that you have taken your responsibilities seriously and planned carefully.
- Assemble photos and video, if appropriate.
Deal with logistics.
The final step in preparing your plan is to manage the logistics.
- Set up or at least identify a “crisis center” or location that is equipped with the needed equipment, including computers, online access and phones. Make sure the center can be dedicated to dealing with a crisis, without adversely affecting day-to-day operations.
- Prepare a “dark” website that can be used strictly for information about a crisis. The website can be password protected so that only appropriate people can access it until (and unless) you want to make it public.
- Identify a way for your employees and other partners to contact you during an emergency.
- Determine how you will monitor what is being reported, both online and offline.
Review the plan.
Make sure the entire executive staff and other key management people, including the corporate lawyer and investor-relations executive, review the crisis-communications plan.
Assign someone to check the plan quarterly, if only to update the lists. The entire crisis-communications team should review the plan annually. Treat the plan as you would a company insurance policy.
Media train your spokespeople, specifically practicing crisis scenarios. Review this training at least annually.
Test the plan. Run through simulations of possible situations. Consider contracting with an outside moderator to run “tabletop exercises”— roundtable discussions based on given crisis scenarios.
Crisis communications planning is often on the “to-do” list, but all too often is not done. However, preparing a plan doesn’t have to be arduous. The planning can be broken into manageable pieces and worked on over several months.
In my next post, I’ll discuss what to do during a crisis.