5 Steps to Developing a Sound Crisis Communications Plan

By: Amy Hansen

Do you have a crisis communications plan to work in tandem with your business continuity plan? Over the past three weeks, we have witnessed many businesses in the industry doing a great job of seamlessly moving their teams to remote work situations. But what has been less clear is whether these same businesses had preconceived plans as to what and how to communicate with key target audiences during this same time.

Unfortunately, COVID-19 is likely not the last crisis your business will have to contend with. Just think about what has transpired over the last 20 years ─ beginning with Y2K at the turn of the century, 9/11, Katrina and the 2005 hurricane season, and of course, The Great Recession ─ just to name a few. Truth be told, there are many unfortunate events that could impact a business – illness/virus; natural disasters (floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, fires, droughts, etc.); employee issues (workplace violence, mental health issues, harassment, lawsuits, accidents, unexpected deaths, etc.); and security (war, terrorism, cyberattacks, data breeches, hacks, etc.). Having a plan in place to communicate during these events is crucial to successfully overcoming them.

Here are the steps you should take to create a solid crisis communications plan:

  1. Anticipate everything that can go wrong. In other words, for every possible crisis, consider all the ways your business could be impacted. Get the “Debbie Downers” in your organization involved – have them think about every possible thing that could happen and more. List everything imaginable and unimaginable. Then, if possible, try to categorize these impacts into potential disasters.
  2. Identify stakeholders and develop key messages. After you list the possible crises your company could face, think about who might be impacted and what should be communicated to them. Then, craft key messages for each of those audiences and determine what types of communication tools you will use to get those messages out (emails, media interviews, website updates, conference calls, social media, etc.). It is very important to be honest and transparent in your communications. Humanize your messages for all audiences – be they board members, employees, vendors or customers ─ by showing compassion and being sincere.
  3. Determine a crisis communications team. You need a core group of people who will make decisions to ensure your messaging is on point and reaches the right people during a crisis. Who at your organization will be responsible for communicating to your various stakeholders and what will their roles be during a crisis? Who will handle internal communications? Who will communicate externally? Make sure the entire team has each member’s contact information with mobile numbers and emails just in case you are not able to access that information easily.
  4. Run through a “mock” crisis at least once a year, and honestly assess what went well and what didn’t so you can make the necessary adjustments.
  5. Regularly review and modify your plan. Things are constantly changing in terms of how business is conducted, best practices, regulations, etc., and your crisis communications plan needs to keep up. That’s why it is important to regularly analyze your plan and make changes as needed.

A good example of a crisis properly handled occurred in 2018, when a popular NBC TV show, “This Is Us,” revealed one of its main characters died in a house fire caused by a slow cooker. Suddenly, Crock-Pot® had to figure out how to handle the sudden, unjustified fear of their landmark product.

The first order of business for the company was to create a Twitter account with the handle @CrockPotCares, where it set out to comfort the grieving fans of the show with tweets such as:

“We’re heartbroken over last night’s episode, too! But don’t worry, you can still make your favorite meals in your #CrockPot with confidence. We want to assure all consumers we rigorously test our products for safety. DM us & we’d be happy to tell you more about our safety standards.”

Crock-Pot’s official company statement discussed their safety record: “For nearly 50 years with over 100 million Crock-Pots sold, we have never received any consumer complaints similar to the fictional events portrayed in last night’s episode. In fact, the safety and design of our product renders this type of event nearly impossible.”

NBC also got involved by creating a tongue-in-cheek ad clearing Crock-Pot’s name which aired before the Super Bowl. In the spot, fans stated they were throwing Crock-Pot-free Super Bowl parties.

Without a crisis communications plan, this could have been disastrous for the cookware maker. But thanks to the quick action of both companies, people did not throw out their Crock-Pots en masse and the tricky situation took a more humorous turn.

Need help developing your crisis communications plan or someone to review the plan you have in place?  Our team would be happy to brainstorm with you. Just send me an email and let’s set up a time to talk.