Basic steps for your crisis communications plan

The recent water contamination in Toledo, Ohio underscores the need for all types of organizations to have a plan for how they will handle communications in a crisis. Most of us won’t be facing a life-or-death situation, as the city of Toledo did, but nevertheless a bit of advance planning can help your organization weather any crisis – avoiding damage to your brand or hampering your ability to do work —  with the help of a crisis communications plan.

Anticipate the crisis.

Involve your management team in brainstorming. What type of situation is your organization most vulnerable to? What steps can you put into place to avert such a crisis? What type of response would be most appropriate were a crisis to strike?

Make it official.

Develop a written company policy that outlines the instances in which employees are allowed to speak to the media and how to handle media inquiries.

Designate a spokesperson, or a crisis team, in advance.

When the crisis hits, whether it is prompted by a product recall, an undetected internal problem or an external tragedy, you need to know who is the first point of communication for all media, client and customer inquiries. Make sure this person has access to company collateral that addresses your mission, values and key messaging.  A number of organizations offer crisis communications training to prepare company spokespersons to play this role.

Identify key stakeholders.

Given the type of organization, who are your key stakeholders? Do you have a board you will need to begin outreach to immediately, or an active group of investors or volunteers?

Prepare to be proactive.

Once the crisis hits, define the problem and set out some measurable objectives. As information becomes available, share it with your stakeholders – or at least let them know you are trying to find out more. Some of the biggest crisis communications missteps stemmed from the company not sharing information in a timely manner.

Are you prepared for a communications crisis?