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Before the Crisis: Laying Out Your Communications Plan

In a world where social media is at our fingertips, we are acutely aware of how quickly news can spread across the world. Crises inevitably strike unexpectedly, and if your brand is not prepared, you might not be able to avoid a PR disaster. Last year, only 62% of companies reported having a crisis communications plan in place.

How can you be prepared? By acknowledging that your brand could encounter a crisis at any time and developing a solid plan of action.

What Defines a Crisis?

Broadly speaking, a crisis is a negative situation that threatens your brand’s reputation or bottom line. Crises can range from:

·  Natural Disaster

·  Medical Emergencies

·  National Tragedy

·  Bad Product or Service Review

·  Messaging Miscommunication

·  Security Breach

·  Workplace crisis

By having a solid and updated crisis communications plan, your brand will be able to respond quickly to any of these situations while keeping your reputation and credibility intact.

Preparing Your Crisis Communication Plan

A crisis communications plan is a set of guidelines prepared by your brand in the event of an unexpected emergency. This should be an intuitive and thorough guide, defining the reason for the plan and outlining the roles of your crisis communication team, public groups, and stakeholders; employee media policy; key messaging; and crisis project management and project objectives.

We dive into each of these sections in further detail below.

The Executive Summary

The executive summary is used to broadly define the communications plan. In this section, you should explain the reason for the plan, when to use the plan, and an overview of what’s included.

Appoint a Crisis Communications Team

This section should name all members of the communications team, their roles, and their contact information. Members typically include the CEO, head of PR, executive leaders in key departments, and the legal team. It’s also important to decide which member of the team will serve as the spokesperson. The spokesperson should be someone who is highly trained and genuine, has reliable communication skills, and has the authority to make decisions in the communication process.

Identify Public Groups and Stakeholders

It is crucial to identify the key groups and stakeholders you will need to communicate with during a crisis. While every organization or brand is different, you will likely find yourself needing to communicate with the following key groups:

·  Local Media

·  Local, State, and Federal Government

·  Stakeholder, Clients, Agency Partners

·  National Media and Trade Publications

Your plan should identify a point of contact for each key group or stakeholder and their contact information.

Employee Media Policy

If your brand finds itself in a crisis, the media will likely start reaching out to your employees for comments. Having a proper media policy in place can help combat misinformation being spread. It’s important to decide if your employees have the authority to speak directly with media representatives.

Employees who are allowed to speak to the media should be thoroughly trained on what they’re allowed to say and how they should say it.

Employees who are not allowed to speak to the media should know what to say to the media if they’re contacted. For example, a proper response could be, “Thank you for your questions and concerns. Unfortunately, I am unable to provide you with the information you are seeking. To answer your questions (or concerns), please contact (name) at (phone number).”

This media policy should also be included in your employee contracts and be revisited at your quarterly meetings to make sure everyone is on the same page.

Develop Consistent Messaging

It’s very important to remember that each crisis is different. Each situation will require a more detailed approach. However, you should clearly define a set of broad messages that can be tailored to many different situations. To begin this process, it’s imperative to create a list of potential crisis situations that your company could face. From this list, you can begin to develop broad messaging for each situation and fill in the details if a crisis should arise.

If a crisis occurs that you have not developed messaging for, you should reach out to your crisis management team spokesperson for direction immediately.

When developing your messaging, remember to stick to your brand standards for consistency.

Social Media Management

This section should define which social media sites and news sites your team will monitor during a crisis situation. Your team should research which news publications would likely run a story on your brand and set up keyword alerts so that you can act quickly on news stories and article updates.

You should additionally outline which social media sites you’ll be using to communicate your messaging to your target audiences and followers. A designated person or team should be responsible for this task.

This section of the plan should be updated frequently due to rapid changes in social media platforms and news and media sites.

Staying Ahead of the Crisis

Here are a few extra tips from our expert team at UMW for staying ahead of a crisis:

1. Stay ahead of the story. You must always appear to be in control. You should know what is being said about your brand and start managing the narrative. Be sure to keep your key stakeholders briefed on the situation.

2. Your actions matter! As the old saying goes, “Actions speak louder than words.” It’s not enough to just say what you’re going to do. Put your action plan into place and then you can position yourself to say what you did, instead of only what you are going to do.

3. Always tell the truth. The truth can be difficult, but in order to retain your brand’s integrity and credibility, it’s better to be honest. It will also avoid the crisis snowballing into something even larger.

4. Learn from your mistakes. If your brand has recovered from a crisis, you should analyze how the crisis was handled. What worked and what didn’t work? You can use this analysis to strengthen your crisis communications plan for any future needs. You can ask yourself questions like:

a. Do we have the proper spokesperson in place?

b. Is our messaging on-brand?

c. Were we able to win back our target audience’s trust?

You can’t always control when, why, or how a crisis will occur. Now that you have the tools you need, you can be prepared for any disaster that is thrown your way.
Want to learn more about Uncommon Marketing Works’ crisis communications strategies? Contact us to discuss how we can help put together a plan for you.

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