What’s next? We asked ourselves this question after 9/11 and after the great recession, and we’re asking again, now in the midst of a pandemic. The answer, of course, is no one knows. It could be another terrorist attack, another pandemic or another financial crisis, or more likely, something we never imagined.
One thing is certain: we need our organizations to be prepared. It’s better to plan for the worst and hope for the best. Those with a Business Continuity Plan/Emergency Preparedness Plan, Crisis Response Plan — or whatever you want to call it — will be better equipped to respond quickly and effectively.
Communications are a big part of any plan, and whether you have a stand-alone crisis communications plan or one integrated in an overall BCP, you should have one. And now, while we’re all thinking about the impact COVID-19 has had on our organizations, is a perfect time to get started. Below are some guidelines to get started.
Learn from the past
Start by taking a look back at how your organization responded to the COVID-19 outbreak. What did you do right? More importantly, what did you do wrong? What resources will you need if something like this happens again? What are the risks to your business?
For example, were you equipped to communicate quickly and accurately with your clients? If you were contacted by the media, did you have media response protocols in place? Were you effective in keeping your employees informed and productive? Was there a process in place to timely convey mission-critical messaging to vendors, suppliers or your sales force?
Gather a team
You’ll respond as a team, so prepare as a team. Put together a crisis response team that covers executive management, legal, human resources and those responsible for communications and relationships with your key stakeholders—clients, shareholders, employees, media, etc.
Evaluate your risks
Next evaluate your risks. Where is your organization vulnerable? What type of crises could damage its reputation? Are those responsible for managing and responding to a crisis trained and ready to do so? By answering these questions, you’ll know what you need to do to prepare.
Write the Plan
There are several key components to a crisis communications plan:
- Introduction: Why the plan is important and how it fits into your organization’s overall missions and structure.
- Scope and Objectives: What the plan is designed to accomplish, what it covers and what it is does not.
- Vulnerability Assessment: As discussed above, where the organization is vulnerable what that means for the plan.
- Crisis Communications Team and Responsibilities: Names, contact information and responsibilities of each team member. Include external resources such as public relations agencies, legal counsel and other experts.
- Media Response Procedures: Who are the primary and secondary spokespeople and what is the protocol throughout the organization in responding to a media inquiry. Social media should be addressed as well.
- Plan Triggers: What type of event will trigger the plan, from contagions, data breach to natural disasters to unexpected legal action or negative media coverage.
- Communications response: Step-by-step guide to activating the plan (team member contact, assessment and next steps), planning and execution (determining a response and delivering messaging) and evaluation and follow-up.
- Messages and prepared communications: While messaging will be tailored to each situation, some core messaging around specific types of crises can be done in advance to ensure consistency with brand and reputation.
A crisis communications plan, like a BCP, is a living, breathing document that should be practiced with tabletop exercises or other training tools, and updated at least once a year and always after a new crisis.
It’s also a good time to contact a crisis communications professional and tap into his or her expertise. It’s an investment that can pay dividends when the unexpected happens.