Crisis communications planning protects your biggest asset

Bad news can hit even the best of companies. Natural disasters, for example, can happen to any organization. Good communication with internal and external audiences during a crisis is crucial to maintaining your company’s most hard-earned asset—its good name.

Steps to plan for the unpredictable

  • Be prepared. Having a crisis communication plan before it’s needed promotes proactive communication with positive results. In the time it takes you to pull together a last-minute plan, erroneous information can filter into the workplace and into the media.
  • Develop accurate messages and communicate them effectively to all audiences. During a crisis, employees must be updated regularly to prevent the spread of inaccurate information. Externally, the media and those assisting in mitigating the crisis (e.g., fire, police and emergency personnel) must be informed of relevant facts. In the case of corporate error, own up immediately to the facts, as you know them. It’s better to be perceived as taking responsibility for a mistake than as trying to cover it up.
  • Keep written records. Keeping records is useful as events unfold and after the crisis has concluded so you can evaluate how your crisis communications plan worked and revise as needed. An accurate, factual written record can be especially helpful if litigation arises.

The Team Approach

The cornerstone of a good crisis communication plan is the crisis communication team (CCT). This group is the information clearinghouse. During a crisis, all external inquiries must be directed to the CCT. The CCT should have representatives from the key disciplines that might be affected, but must be small enough to for rapid decision making and action.

The CCT should develop a list of possible crises that might affect your business and the concerns each would raise. Based on this, the team can develop internal and external crisis communication tools in advance. These will vary from business to business, but certain elements are fundamental:

•  Phone trees. The appropriate emergency numbers for various types of crises should be included, along with the members of the CCT, who should have beepers to allow for 24-hour access.

•  Crisis fact sheets and crisis casualty sheets. These internal tools are fast ways to keep track of the “what, where, who, when and why” of a crisis and to quantify the magnitude of a crisis in standard terms.

•  Media kits. Having pre-prepared background material can speed your media response and help ameliorate the “bad news” focus by including positive information about your company. Kits should include a fact sheet on the company’s history and products and/or services and a skeleton press release that can be quickly tailored for any crisis. Keep copies of this material off-site.

•  Media contacts. Prepare a list of phone and fax numbers for the major media, along with deadline information.

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