If you don't have a crisis communication plan, you're putting all your hard work at risk
Warning: this blog includes some sports talk.
I once had a basketball coach who would begin every season by teaching the team how to handle being pressed and trapped by the other team. In basketball, an effective full-court press defense can really make things difficult for the team being pressed. Turnovers pile up, the other team scores a lot of quick, easy baskets, and indecisiveness and frustration mounts, leading to more turnovers and more easy scores for the other team. Before you know it, you look up at the scoreboard and find yourself so far behind that it’s nearly impossible to come back.
Even if your team eventually settles down, regains some confidence, and proceeds to do a lot of things really well the rest of the game, it won’t make up for mishandling the initial pressure. So, my former coach’s approach was to drill his teams in this area early and often in the preseason. He had a favorite saying about it: “Work first on what will get you beat the quickest.”
Work first on what will get you beat the quickest.
When it comes to public relations and organizational communication in general, what will get you beat the quickest, in my opinion, is not being prepared for a crisis. Indeed, your organization can do a lot of things very, very well — have a best-in-class website, execute a terrific SEO strategy that drives great traffic to your website, create a robust and engaging social media effort, and earn positive coverage and publicity from traditional media outlets. But if you bungle a crisis of just about any scope, it can have deep repercussions and take years for your brand to recover from the damage.
That’s why I can’t recommend strongly enough to revisit your crisis communication plan regularly — at least once a year. And if your organization does not have a crisis communication plan, get to work on it as soon as possible. If not today, tomorrow. If not tomorrow, next week. If not next week ... well, you get the point. It simply has to be a priority.
There are many examples of crisis communication plans that you can find with a simple Google search. Some are very simple. Of course, some crisis communication plans are extremely complex and take into account a multitude of possibilities and contingencies. The size, scope, and nature of your organization or business will drive how detailed and layered your crisis communication plan needs to be. But regardless of the ultimate depth of your plan, here are a few things you can do to get started, as well as a couple of principles I believe every organization needs as the backbone of their plan:
- If you or your organization is a member of a professional association, ask them if they can provide any guidance or examples for crisis communication planning.
- Reach out to your friends and colleagues in other organizations. Ask them if they have a crisis communication plan, and if they would mind sharing either the plan itself, or advice on how they created it if there is proprietary information in the plan.
- Call ALINE if you need help or get stuck.
- When it comes to the plan itself, if you do nothing else, identify a single spokesperson for the organization if a crisis situation occurs. Make sure everyone understands that person — and only that person — will handle media questions and speak for the organization to stakeholders. When a crisis hits, the last thing you want are different messages delivered by different messengers.
- Commit to sharing as much information as possible, as quickly as possible. This does not mean rushing out with info before you are ready. It does mean sharing what happened, explaining how it happened, and committing to preventing it from happening again, in that order, as soon as possible.
Let us know if we can help. But most importantly, get this on your radar. You’ve worked too hard and done too many things well in building your organization or business. Don’t lose the game by not preparing for what will get you beat the quickest.