Will you be prepared when the call comes? Not the 3:00 a.m. call made famous by a 2008 presidential campaign ad, but the call to you, the executive, informing you that something of disastrous proportion has happened to your business or nonprofit. An occurrence of such magnitude that it will affect the lives of you, your employees, your customers or the people you serve.
Over time, we have all witnessed a myriad of serious events that have plagued businesses and nonprofits such as exploding electronic batteries, food contamination, theft of funds or personal information, industrial accidents, natural disasters, and the list goes on.
In order to prepare for these life-altering events, you need to have a plan – a crisis communication plan. When a crisis erupts, communication to address the problem should begin immediately because the response could greatly affect organizational safety, reputation, financial welfare and others. In deference to time and space, I will discuss a very general plan that every company or organization should employ before a disaster strike.
Assemble a Crisis Team
Typically consists of the CEO and his or her executive team, the PR, HR, and security directors, and in some cases, legal counsel. Identify a means to contact the team in mass to bring them together. Paid services are available to contact people via text, email or phone call.
Identify the spokesperson and a backup
Both of these people should have an understanding of the business / organization, its processes, and physical layout. Of course, they need to be well-spoken, able to think on their feet and remain calm under pressure. They should receive media training annually if possible and practice what they learned throughout the year. Only the spokesperson addresses the media during a crisis.
Develop the Plan
Although you cannot anticipate every possible scenario, you can anticipate the types of crises your organization could encounter based on the nature of your business or nonprofit. One of the first exercises your crisis team would be to brainstorm ideas for the critical events most likely to occur. This simple exercise often identifies potentially damaging and preventable incidents (or the lack of a system to report an emergency internally) before they occur. Using the results of this exercise as a baseline, prepare for the following items and include an electronic and a hard copy for each member of the crisis team:
- A list of key audiences: May consist of media, customers / clients, employees, neighbors, lenders / investors, government officials and authorities, suppliers, etc.
- A means to contact your audiences – compile a list of phone numbers, email addresses, websites, etc. and the best means to communicate with each. Do not forget social media. Today the fastest way to get important information out to the public is through social media outlets such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and others. It is just as important to monitor these sites and respond quickly to any misinformation or incorrect characterizations.
- Prewritten messages – Your key audiences will want to know three things:
Why did it happen?
What corrective action is underway?
Create messaging in the form of releases and talking points relevant to each audience in advance. Include fill in the blank lines for details associated with the emergency. This alleviates a delay in issuing these communication pieces the day of the event. The message should be consistent, honest, and transparent across the board to all audiences.
Determine a Center of Operations
The crisis team will need an operations center to meet and work. Consequently, the planning must take into consideration the possibility that an on-site administration facility may be unavailable due to the crisis and that a secondary off-site location may be required. Regardless of the location, the crisis team will need access to computers and printers, the internet, cable television, copiers, phones, fax machines, and office supplies to name a few.
In the end, is it possible to be totally prepared for a crisis when it happens? Of course, the answer to this question is “no.” However, you and your leadership team will sleep more soundly at night knowing that a crisis communications plan is in place if the call comes.
By Brian Sweigart, Business Development Coordinator