No one needs to tell a communications team twice that if “you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” Creating a strategy that not only allows for a defensive response when something hits, but an anticipatory plan of possible situations, provides an offense your organization can depend on.
Julia Lee, vice president of crisis and reputation risk at Edelman, says that recent crises can be traced to three specific factors: “More complex and greater scale operations, faster pace [of business] and higher stakeholder expectations.” These also play into why the costs of failure to respond properly to a crisis can be more extreme.
Lee agrees that responding to a crisis is really about preparing ahead of time, and making sure you have a robust plan in place so that you can handle anything that comes your way.
Here are her seven features of a fool-proof crisis plan:
Risk Mapping and Identification
Scour the internet, your company website and all social media channels for potential issues concerning your brand. This pre-emptive approach should be a regular practice, as should identifying potential scenarios that don’t yet exist but could arise because of the stakes of your industry. It can be helpful to map these by tier, probability of occurrence and severity of reputation risk should they occur.
Risk Definition and Issue Evaluation Framework
Remember that not every issue will be a major crisis, and sometimes activating a full-scale crisis response can create an issue out of a situation that could have been handled quietly and discreetly. Set up a three-tiered scale, from most to least severe, including trigger points and appropriate actions so that you may properly and swiftly evaluate an incident and act appropriately.
Decision Matrix and Escalation Protocol
Particularly for larger companies with worldwide networks, there should be a clear protocol in place for when to invoke a global crisis response. By addressing whether an issue is impacting more than one region, whether the issue is attracting top-tier media attention or if it’s trending on social media in multiple regions, you can clearly see if the situation requires a global reaction or if it can be handled on a local level. This can also be useful for smaller companies who are wondering when to escalate an issue to leadership or an outside agency or handle in-house.
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Clearly Defined Roles and Responsibilities
Nothing can derail a crisis faster than a member of the team not doing their job. It’s crucial to clarify roles and responsibilities of everyone on the crisis team before a crisis hits so that the troops can mobilize as soon as possible to mitigate the situation.
Stakeholder Identification and Analysis
Who are the people or groups—including the public and the media— who will need information about a crisis, and who should information be disseminated to first? When is it appropriate to call in an issue to the C-suite? At what point do you communicate a situation to internal employees and how? These questions should all be answered as part of your plan.
Detailed plans and strategies for handling high-priority scenarios and risks
When a crisis hits that could have serious reputational repercussions for your brand, you can get out in front of it much quicker if you have a strategy in place. Draft holding statements ahead of time to state that you’re aware of the situation and you’ll release more information as it becomes available. Lay out the potential risk, the trigger point, the communications principles you’ll employ in this scenario and identify the stakeholders who will need to be contacted—and the spokesperson who will relay details about the issue.
Checklists, Templates and Contact Information
Anything you can do beforehand to decrease the risk of scrambling for information while a crisis is underway will save a lot of headaches during an already stressful time. Make sure contact information of all team members is up-to-date and readily available. Prepare checklists of steps of the plan that can be referred to by a harried team. And pre-made communications templates that can be edited when necessary will save precious moments—after all, a good crisis response is a swift one.