5 Ways to Build a Flameproof Crisis Team

crisis team

In today's rapid-fire world of communications, brand reputations can be torn down in a moment by a single tweet or Facebook post.

One of the major facets of being prepared for such a crisis is having a staff that's ready to respond and rebuild at a moment's notice. To investigate the process behind preparing staff for a calamity, PR News opened its Crisis Management Boot Camp on Feb. 23 with a session on building a flameproof crisis team.

zignal labs, vp marketing, randy brasche
Randy Brasche, VP of marketing, Zignal Labs

Ken Peterson, communications director at Monterey Bay Aquarium, and Randy Brasche, VP of marketing at Zignal Labs, led the session and shared five elements of their crisis team-building strategies below.

Train your team to establish a baseline and give upper management data-based updates. Brasche stressed the importance of establishing a baseline of positive and negative mentions so that brands can note the exact point in time when a situation has moved into crisis. Once this baseline has been established, team members can use data to show senior management exactly how bad a situation is by the numbers: measuring mentions, shares, tweets and re-tweets to develop a response that meets the brand audience's concerns.

Pre-assign individuals to communicate with media, stakeholders and the public—no matter where they are. This messaging might occur on the brand's official social media channels, an online newsroom or on individual team members' social accounts. "Tasks are pre-assigned to specific team members best positioned to reach out to their key stakeholders," said Peterson. Points of contact are prepared to work remotely in a case where responding on-site isn't possible.

monterey bay aquarium, communications director, ken peterson
Ken Peterson, communications director, Monterey Bay Aquarium

Create a crisis command center. At Zignal Labs, Brasche's team uses a centralized “mission control" to consolidate and visualize clients' crisis reporting and processes from a data standpoint. Meanwhile, Peterson's team conducts full-day drills at a physical command center set up specifically for crises, with teams working for six to eight hours at a time. Representatives from PR, social media, marketing, sales, events and membership teams are called upon to ensure "all of the right people are in the same room to reach a solution as quickly as possible," said Peterson. Drills include brainstorming sessions, presentations by team leads and mock press conferences, with Peterson's team occasionally even bringing in working journalists to take part.

Invest in planning, training and drills. "We've earmarked a budget of $40,000 to take us through drills and training to prepare for crisis moments," said Peterson. While this may seem like a large amount to some, Peterson noted that it was well worth the spend to ensure his staff is ready to respond in any crisis.

Get executive buy-in. Brasche advocated for a data-based solution, with PR pros presenting upper management with data points representing the tone of the current conversation around a crisis. Peterson advised communicators to passionately make the case to upper management that their organization could be literally wiped out by a crisis. "Point to other organizations who have responded [adequately and inadequately] to crises," he added.

Follow Ken: @aquaken

Follow Randy: @randyman71