As a marketing and public relations agency, KNB Communications excels at persuasion. So if you read our blog on why every company needs a crisis communications plan, you’re surely convinced having one is critical. But needing one is not the same as having one. And not having what you need to be successful can leave a knot in your belly. Fret not, we’ve got you covered with this simple checklist for creating a crisis comms plan sure to douse your next disaster. Here are some basics elements your plan should include:
1. Anticipated scenarios. It would be lovely if every crisis came with a minimum of two days’ notice. But for most people, their phone starts blowing up only after someone realizes the situation can no longer be contained. When that happens, they spend the first critical hours playing catch-up instead of getting in front of the messaging. You can avoid this scenario by giving some thought to the most likely crises your company could face. What keeps you up at night? The possibility of a lawsuit, product recall, bad reviews online, an unscrupulous C-suiter, a data breach, or a tragic outcome of some sort are all options. Select the four or five most likely possibilities and draft your plan around them.
2. Severity scale. There are typically four ‘levels’ of a crisis, from “this will all blow over by tomorrow” to “DEFCON 1 alert.” Each crisis will have a different response, different spokespersons, and different consequences. Assign the scenarios you selected a severity level with the following in mind:
Level 1: This is the highest level of crisis escalation and should involve an all-hands-on-deck approach. A long-term threat of damage to your company is likely. This might include executive misconduct, a product, service, or employee that causes significant harm to a customer, or a high-profile lawsuit.
Level 2: This presents a moderate potential risk or impact on business operations, customer success, and/or company reputation. A product recall or issue with the supply chain, manufacturer error, or a data breach would likely fall under this category.
Level 3: The event is unlikely to pose a long-term risk to or impact business operations, customer success, and/or company reputation, but in the short term, it’s a doozy. Examples can include unfavorable media coverage, harmful rumors, or an employee strike.
Level 4: This is where most crises will fall. They tend to be slightly bigger versions of day-to-day issues that may need a bit of extra effort to be fully resolved or addressed. An unhappy customer on social media or a former employee giving bad company reviews are often the culprit.
3. The messengers. Just as important as what you say in a crisis is who says it. Your plan should specify who is responsible for gathering information and who communicates to various audiences. Roles should be clearly defined and approved spokespersons clearly identified. To limit misinformation and conflicting reports, all inquiries should be directed to this group of approved spokespersons. Names, titles, and all contact information, as well as a backup, should someone be unavailable should all be included in the plan. Here’s a guideline for who would typically be called to respond to events:
Level 1 response should come from the company’s CEO or the highest-level subject matter expert.
Level 2 requires a subject matter expert or a company executive.
Level 3 is typically someone in your communications or marketing department, or possibly HR for employee matters.
Level 4 is generally someone in your communications or marketing department.
4. Make a (pre-scripted) statement. Once your crisis team is aware of the situation, it’s time to release a statement. Even if the details are limited, you need to let your stakeholders know you’re aware and actively working to resolve the matter. In general, statements should provide an overview of the situation, an apology to those impacted, a timetable for any updates, and details about the steps you’ll take to ensure it doesn’t happen again. Have a few statements drafted in advance for each scenario in your plan. Key messages should be woven into each sample statement so they aren’t accidentally left out. Be sure to note where people can find the latest details (website, social media, etc) and how often they can expect to receive updates. It’s also a good idea to have resources like an FAQ sheet and fact sheets available. Your plan also needs to note who is responsible for creating and disseminating this information.
5. Play to your audience. You’ll need to communicate with every stakeholder differently because a crisis will impact every stakeholder differently. A good crisis communications plan provides guidance on how to communicate key messages to different audiences. For employees, a crisis could impact their daily responsibilities or hours, which might have childcare implications for them or have them concerned about their paycheck. A customer will require a different message. Perhaps your crisis could impact contracts you have with them or disrupt their operations. If your crisis impacts your greater community, your messaging might need to be centered around safety. No matter the message or the audience, communication needs to be truthful and transparent.
Need a crisis comms plan but prefer to leave its assembly to the experts? Give KNB a call for a quote.