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There’s Still Time for a Crisis Communications Plan

Victoria Palmer

Digital Content Strategist, Forum One

Hannah Webster

Strategic Communications Director, Forum One

When we think of crisis communications, we think of an organization saving face as the result of a scandal, but crisis communications tactics are important in any situation that has a severe impact on an organization. The best time for your organization to have a robust crisis communications plan in place was a year ago, but the second-best time is now. There’s still time for you to create a crisis communications plan.

Where to focus your messaging

During a crisis, a lot can change in a very short period of time for both individuals and organizations. Right now, some organizations are struggling to balance the best ways to care for both their staff and external audiences as they try to stick to their missions in a remote environment. If you feel like your “business-as-usual” communication style isn’t working and that your organization is playing catch-up, it’s not too late to develop a strategic, streamlined approach to crisis communications that can help drive engagement and reassure your staff and stakeholders. Your messaging should always:

  1. Acknowledge the crisis: Things are not normal. Be open about what has changed and the ways those changes are impacting your staff and your stakeholders.
  2. Express confidence in your approach: If you seem confident in your organization’s ability to manage the crisis and can outline a clear and realistic plan, your staff and stakeholders will have confidence in you.
  3. Give people the information they need, when they need it: It is important to value transparency and accuracy, but it is also possible to give too much information. Communicate timelines and decisions you’re sure of. Don’t be afraid to say something is unknown and commit to finding answers to the questions that are top of mind for your stakeholders.

Where to focus your time

Some of that is probably easier said than done. When an organization doesn’t have the right infrastructure in place to handle the message, there’s always a risk of heightening anxiety among those they are trying to communicate with. Here are some steps to take right now to make sure you have that infrastructure in place to weather this crisis—and any others that come in the future. 

Preparedness

Develop processes and training to better manage the communication coming from your organization’s communication team and leadership.

  • Understand the impact of the crisis and define the immediate and possible long-term impacts on your organization and your internal and external stakeholders. 
  • Create a crisis communication plan that includes messaging around any frequently asked questions or key business or stakeholders’ needs, methods and channels of communication, roles and responsibilities, and a vulnerability audit that provides draft responses to best and worst-case scenarios. 
  • Establish a crisis communications team that includes executive and senior management, general counsel if appropriate, available HR representatives, and in-house communications leads. You may want to include other team members, such as department or division leads. 
  • Identify and train a spokesperson who will be the point of contact and tasked with delivering the message. This person should be well versed and effective in spoken and written communication. 

Strategic Messaging

Establish rules and guidelines to keep content current and help avoid blunders, such as blanket statements and tone-deaf or out of touch responses.

  • Conduct a content inventory and audit. With the landscape rapidly changing, it’s important to have a firm understanding of your existing content strategies and how your content is used across your different platforms so that you can reach all of your stakeholders. You will need to repurpose content, shift your tone, and speak to your audiences appropriately, while being true to your central brand voice and mission. 
  • Draft placeholder messages and statements for each of the communications channels identified in the communication plan process. When developing a crisis plan in a non-crisis scenario, these should be statements that can be a starting point in any crisis so that your organization is not caught off guard or starting from zero in an emergency. In the current COVID-19 crisis, they should be as specific as possible and always include as many facts as you have at the time. 

Crisis Management 

Your day-to-day communications and strategies may need to be revised or revisited—and that’s ok. Flexibility is key, so collect as much information as you can, and be sure you’re communicating internally.

  • Monitor the conversation. This includes media monitoring and social media mentions, as well as monitoring the mood and sentiment of employees. 
  • Establish a virtual war room for the crisis communications team to keep key team members aligned on priorities and messaging. For a quick-moving and ongoing crisis like COVID-19, war room briefings may need to be daily.
  • Regularly assess lessons learned so that you can see what’s working, what’s not, and identify gaps in your response. Crises can reveal gaps in an organization’s communications or operational structures—even when there is a plan in place. Ongoing evaluation will help you course-correct quickly to anything that may have a negative impact on brand perception and identity. 

You will be able to be more nimble and responsive in a crisis if you listen to your stakeholders and staff and make your communications and content strategies adaptable and flexible. Preparation, analysis, and a clear process are crucial in how and when your organization responds to the crisis—and it’s not too late to get those processes in place, starting now. 

Written By

Victoria Palmer

Digital Content Strategist, Forum One

Hannah Webster

Strategic Communications Director, Forum One

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