Creating an effective crisis communications plan

We live in an “instant information” age, with 24-hours news channels on TV, radio, and the Web, all needing information and wanting exciting, attention-getting headlines. This creates an environment where managing the message to the media takes on heightened importance, since the chance for a misstep to go unnoticed is slim. We have all seen the effects of negative media exposure and witnessed the ramifications of harmful leaks or misinformation to the press. The results have caused businesses to suffer, organizations to be unfairly maligned, and, as seen with early reports about ‘swine flu,’ a nation to panic.

There is a better way. Through crisis communications planning, companies and government organizations can have a clearly defined and effective process in place to immediately manage the message to the media and, therefore, the public. This will lessen panic, provide calm, clear directives and suggestions, and negate further trauma. And this communication and interaction with the media and the public can be done in a manner that’s consistent with protecting sensitive sources and information.

Many government agencies are reviewing their crisis communications plans and putting Public Information Centers (PICs) into place. Their reasons are clear:

• Companies and organizations that have a crisis communications plan are significantly more effective in handling disaster situations.
• They can respond faster because they know what to do. Speed is crucial to negate rumors and hearsay and contain the damage as quickly as possible.
• Companies and organizations that cooperate with media and share facts with the public consistently are more trusted by the public.
• Companies and organizations that demonstrate loyalty to their clients by placing their clients’ needs first in dealing with the crisis are more likely to survive a crisis situation.

The PIC leadership develops, creates, and tests the crisis communications plan, provides guidance in training team members and spokespeople, and overall provides necessary tools so your organization is well prepared to speedily respond to a potential media crisis. A thorough planning phase should include the following:

 Identify a crisis team/Re-evaluate existing crisis team’s roles
 Analyze your vulnerabilities
 Evaluate your existing procedures
 Identify the new procedures you need
 Designate a spokesperson(s)
 Draft a comprehensive crisis communications plan
 Media training
 Simulate/test crisis communications plan

As disasters unfortunately seem to be a more common occurrence, our skills for dealing with them must be honed. An effective crisis communications plan provides your team with the blueprint to navigate rough waters effectively, to minimize panic, reassure your audiences, and protect sensitive sources. A delicate balancing act – but one Public Affairs and Public Relations professionals must engage in more and more frequently. Planning and preparedness help make dealing with a disaster a lot less disastrous.
For a more thorough explanation of what goes into an effective crisis communications plan, please see my article at If you’d like to discuss creating such a plan for your organization, please contact me at [email protected]

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Brooke Fisher Liu

Great post! As someone who has taught and researched effective crisis communication management for the past four years, I would add the following:

*When analyzing your vulnerabilities consider rating (on a scale of 1-5 or 1-10) the likelihood of any given crisis affecting your organization and the impact any given crisis would have on your organization. You can then average these to scores to help determine and prioritize which crises to prepare for.

*When evaluating your existing procedures, make sure to update your media contact list (including local, national, and international reporters and bloggers).

*Also, if you can afford it, conduct research (e.g., focus groups, interviews, media coverage analysis, etc.) to determine what worked in the past crisis responses and how you can improve future crisis responses.

*Finally, don’t forget to monitor how organizations in your same field handle crises to learn from their successes and failures.