Crisis Response Should Be a Reflex: 7 Important Steps for Your Organization

Nick Ludlum, SVP at Ogilvy

Everything gets more complicated the bigger your organization is, and crisis response is no exception. Nick Ludlum, senior vice president at Ogilvy Public Relations, compares successful crisis response to an involuntary reflex in the PR News Crisis Management Guidebook: "An incident is identified. A crisis team convenes. The circumstances are assessed. Crisis protocols are activated. A response is developed and implemented. Activities are measured for effectiveness, and the team cycles through these steps again and again until some form of equilibrium is reached. Someone flips a switch, and the machinery kicks into gear."

However, just as an elephant's reflexes are slower than a house cat's, it can take longer for a large organization to lumber into action and actuate an effective response to a crisis event. This can be mitigated with an effective crisis plan, though. Ludlum offers this seven-step outline for creating a crisis plan that will quicken your organization's reflexes:

  1. Define what your organization is and the stakeholders who may be expected to represent it in a time of crisis.
  2. Analyze how and if these stakeholders may be both audiences as well as channels for crisis communications. Define scenarios for each.
  3. Understand how stakeholders’ needs change depending on the specifics of a given crisis scenario. Are they an audience, a channel, a mix of both? Ensure your communication strategy addresses those unique needs.
  4. Create a crisis response infrastructure that can “flex” to accommodate different parts of the organization depending on circumstances.
  5. Establish the appropriate methods and tools of communication to coordinate with the crisis team or share information with internal and external audiences.
  6. Monitor and recalibrate. Pay attention to how your internal stakeholders are reacting to the crisis and how they using crisis management material.
  7. Above all, focus on the emotional needs of your internal audience and those you are relying on to help communicate in a time of crisis.

To expand on identifying stakeholders and their needs, Ludlum points out that the very same person or entity might take on a different role depending on the nature of the crisis:

"In one scenario, the CEO of an electronics company is charged with a crime. The retailer is an audience for communications, but not a partner in crisis response. The retailer needs reassurance that the supplier will continue to operate despite upheaval in its business. Depending on the CEO’s actions, the retailer may need reassurance that it is not also a victim.

"Now consider the same partners, only this time the electronics company is issuing a recall. The retailer’s role changes and, depending on the nature of the recall, the retailer may consider itself in crisis mode. Now, as an audience and partner itself in the crisis response, the retailer needs a different type of information. When will the supply be restored? Might any of my customers be at risk of harm? What is the process for replacement and refunds? How, when and where should the retailer carry and reinforce the supplier’s message? What is it at liberty to say, and what should it not say? Knowing the answers to these questions, who may ask them and how they view their role in the issue is a critical step in crisis response management."

Follow Nick Ludlum: @nickludlum

Follow Ian James Wright: @ianwright0101