How to Plan for the ‘Golden Hour’ in Crisis Communications

crisis communications planning
Gene Grabowski

In more than 25 years in crisis communications, I’ve learned many lessons about planning for and managing workplace incidents. None is more important than what to do in the Golden Hour of a crisis.

In incident management, just as in emergency medical care, what you do in the first 60 minutes, or the Golden Hour, often determines whether your event remains manageable or erupts into a full-blown crisis. That’s why I advocate having as part of any crisis plan a checklist of tasks to complete in that critical time period.

Here are 10 elements to include in your Golden Hour planning:

1. Begin with urgency. Immediately designate trusted team members to find out the facts—their first reports to be made within 15 minutes.

2. If your crisis involves an accident, injury or death, designate another team member to connect with law enforcement, or other health and safety authorities to be involved in the situation.

3. Monitor in real time what is being said on social and traditional media—Twitter often tells you more in real time than any other source. You need to know what is out there already so you can begin to set the record straight.

4. Take 15 minutes for the crisis team to discuss the scope of the issue and the critical decisions that must be made immediately.

5. Draft an initial holding statement with the help of your head of communications, external crisis manager and/or legal counsel. It should state what, if anything, you believe you know, with the acknowledgment that these are early impressions that may need to be corrected later. Reinforce that you are committed to finding out as much as you can, and that you will update your audiences as you learn more. Above all, speak with compassion throughout the statement. Empathy for any injured or aggrieved parties is essential.

6. Consider any necessary outreach to employees, customers, suppliers, consumers, nearby residents, political officials or regulators.

7. Once the holding statement has been shared with traditional and social media, stop and take a collective deep breath. It’s time to assess what has happened and what should be done next. Convene the crisis team for a group discussion.

8. Are there visuals you should be sharing to ensure that you control the picture journalists and other audiences may be seeing in traditional and social media? Is a short video of some kind warranted—the CEO or other executive speaking to the issue, apologizing (if appropriate) and outlining next steps?

9. Consider: Are you missing anything up to this point? Think like your customer. What would I want this company to be doing or telling me right now? In four hours? Tomorrow?

10. Update your holding statement in real time when you learn of new details. Remain transparent and you—not your critics—will become the trusted source for all your audiences.

Because every organization, and every incident, is different, you will want to adapt your Golden Hour planning to suit your special needs and circumstances. But this list should get you started in the right direction.

And always remember, an incident without a plan becomes a crisis.

Gene Grabowski, a past PR News Crisis Manager of the Year, is a partner at the Washington, D.C.-based firm kglobal, where he drives crisis communications and issues management campaigns for Fortune 500 companies, trade associations and universities. Follow Gene: @crisisguru. Follow kglobal: @kglobaldc