Many companies think a crisis will never happen to them. In reality, crisis situations affect businesses of all sizes and industries every day. The following best practices, however, will help outline and deploy an effective plan to avoid/minimize harm to people, property and reputations. It will even help organizations prepare for, and prevent, the spread of the coronavirus:
Being proactive to prevent issues from gaining momentum is the first step of a crisis communications plan. Safeguarding human health is paramount. What keeps you up at night? What could possibly go wrong? What are the critical success factors for your business or organization? What do stakeholders and stockholders expect from your organization? This checklist can help us identify the downside issues within an organization, prioritize them and manage them for maximum impact.
For example, coronavirus is a pathway threat, which means that we must identify and manage potential pathways where the virus can spread to other people. Protecting customers and employees is vital. In fact, negligence could be criminal in a life-threatening event such as this potential pandemic. Stakeholders and the public at large will want to know that you are doing everything possible to prevent new pathways, while containing known source points.
You know that old adage, “failing to plan is planning to fail?” The only way to make sure you’re fully prepared to deal with crisis situations is to spend the time before an issue arises to put a plan in place. A good crisis communications plan should:
1. Identify the core response team. This group is your first line of defense in crisis situations. At the very least, it should include someone from your PR team and a legal representative. It’s helpful to create an email alias with that group so you can contact everyone at once.
Make sure to designate someone in this group as the directly responsible individual (DRI), as well as an alternate in the event that that person is unable to help. That person will be responsible for evaluating incidents, convening the response team, and looping in other teams as needed.
2. Identify the executive response team. Once the core response team has evaluated an incident and determined its severity, it’s important that they know who on the leadership team should be alerted to the situation. The core group should stay the same from incident to incident, but you should also be prepared to bring in other executives as needed (for example, if it’s a customer-facing issue, make sure your head of customer support is looped in early).
3. Determine your workflow. Outline the specifics of how the team will mobilize during an incident. How will you communicate? How will people in the response teams be notified? How often will you report publicly? Where will you post those communications?
Make sure you consider multiple different scenarios when putting that workflow in place. It’s also helpful to list out all of the constituents that might be impacted, such as customers, employees, partners, or investors. You should also record the different channels you would use to reach these audiences – think in-product notifications, emails, social media posts, or a press release. This work can feel tedious, but it’s incredibly important to have this done well in advance so that you’re not scrambling to compile it later.
Every company is different, so the additional elements of your plans might differ slightly, but these core factors are essential to any effective plan. By outlining these ahead of time, you can be sure you’ll be prepared when a situation actually arises.
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