Just like every building needs a fire escape plan, every brand needs a crisis plan. Unfortunately, one-size-fits-all directions like get close to the ground, take the stairs, and find the nearest exit aren’t exactly going to work in this situation. A good public relations professional knows that a crisis communication plan is completely tailored to each situation.
The word crisis communication is far more than procedures to follow after something bad has already happened. These strategies are detailed assessments of a brand that identify potential problems that could occur, specific to the brand, that include detailed plans on how the company will prepare for and respond to these situations.
The first part of crisis communication is assessing your client to see what scenarios could possibly arise in their situation. If you are representing a restaurant, it would be a good idea to have a plan in place in the event a customer gets food poisoning. On the other hand, a car dealership probably doesn’t have to worry about being responsible for one of their customers contracting a food borne illness. This pre-crisis stage is all about identifying problems that could occur specific to your client so you’ll be ready to address any problem at a moment's notice.
Once you have an understanding of what could go wrong on the horizon, you can begin to plan for how your organization will react. The components of the crisis plan could be anything from paperwork detailing policies and procedures, to having appropriate contact lists available, to making sure employees are preemptively trained to respond to certain situations.
Planning also includes taking into consideration any outside forces that will be affected by the crisis. Your client may have to address the media. Make sure the appropriate spokespeople from your client understands the situation well enough to address the public confidently. It is also vital to keep an open line of communication with the media and provide them with information in a timely fashion. Even if there is nothing new to communicate, respond to reporters when they reach out and let them know you are handling the situation and will reach out with new developments as soon as possible. If your company is slow to respond or seems to withhold information from the public, it could make the public feel you are untrustworthy, and this reputation could stick long after the crisis is over. Keeping audiences informed on a developing situation could be the difference between being viewed as untrustworthy or transparent.
There are lots of other audiences your brand may have to address. Shareholders and people within the company are examples of other audiences that have to be addressed in a crisis. Despite not being outside audiences, these groups are also affected by the brand’s affairs and may not know all the information related to the situation. These people deserve to be informed and treated with consideration just like any other audience.
What PR professionals creating these plans absolutely must realize is that this is much more than another binder of company policies and procedures. The most important aspect of crafting a crisis plan is being kind and acting in the most ethical way possible. These potential crises could be very sensitive and involve the health, wellbeing, or security of others. The number one priority should always be handling every situation in the most ethical way possible. While no
one wants to be put into a crisis situation, it is an opportunity to demonstrate to all audiences that your brand can be trusted to act swiftly and with compassion in the event of an emergency.