In March 2020, Look East was prepared to provide an in-person crisis communication workshop for one of our clients. Then, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, closing most of the country, including professional conferences and trainings. The irony is that the far-reaching impacts on our health and economy are a crisis like no other in our lifetime.
At the scene of an emergency, first responders are specifically trained to manage the situation. Their first step to evaluate the response is to assess vital signs of the individuals impacted. The steps for an organization to prepare for a crisis are similar.
While it’s not possible to host in-person training right now, the current situation makes this an ideal time to assess the vital signs of your crisis preparedness efforts. Using the framework of a crisis preparedness plan, invest the time now to evaluate your crisis communication plan to determine if it is meeting the needs of your constituents.
Here are our recommended steps to create a crisis plan:
CREATE A CRISIS RESPONSE TEAM
The first step is to ensure you have a team to act immediately when necessary.
- Assign the spokesperson and other internal or external team members for the crisis response team. Outside experts can serve as a resource or provide additional perspective to actions you should take.
- Define the key stakeholders and assign a relationship manager and communication type to each (phone call, email, social post, etc.). Do you have someone in charge of these audiences? Who have you missed?
- Decide how the organization will monitor new developments during a crisis.
ASSESS YOUR VULNERABILITIES
A real crisis will expose your vulnerabilities as well as your strengths.
- Assess past situations that have been managed effectively.
- Outline the organizational weaknesses and leadership worries. How are these issues being mitigated? What can be done to address the vulnerabilities?
- Define the stakeholders for each scenario and the preferred messaging and contact method.
DEVELOP PROTOCOLS FOR RESPONDING TO CRISIS SITUATIONS
The crisis response team understands daily dilemmas and how to manage the organizational circumstances.
- What steps will your crisis team follow? Outline a response to each vulnerability.
- What has worked well in the past? What improvements would you make to past responses?
- How and where have you cataloged all information related to past crises for future reference?
PREPARE KEY MESSAGES & YOUR SPOKESPERSON
Organizations should develop basic key messages before they are needed in a crisis to ensure key facts and other data are researched and confirmed.
- Is the designated spokesperson prepared to speak to media and answer difficult questions? If not, they may need periodic media training.
- Ongoing communication is foundational to stakeholder relationships. Ensure key audiences receive frequent updates, even when it feels like there is nothing new to say.
- Outline what the organization will share online, to your stakeholders and with the media. Crisis messaging should convey empathy and share relevant facts. Examples of considerations:
- Do your key stakeholders, such as employees and customers, know that the organization cares about them and values their contributions?
- Are you listening to your key stakeholders? How would they know?
- What source are they receiving the information from - directly from you or in the media?
- What will your stakeholders say about the organization after this is over?
COMMIT TO WRITING, REVIEWING & UPDATING YOUR PLAN
A crisis response plan is only effective if you treat it as a living, breathing document and continue to review and update its content.
- Keep the crisis plan on the company intranet for quick and easy access for use and updates. Keep a notebook, too, if you prefer.
- Update procedures as new experiences arise. Throughout the current circumstances, and especially after, meet with the crisis response team to review the plan, the roles, the process and take notes of the positive and negative feedback from the team.
- Make a yearly reminder to review the crisis plan so it is current and relevant.
After addressing each of the steps listed above, you will be equipped to make an assessment of the vitality of your crisis plan framework. Let us know if you need assistance creating a crisis plan. We can help you get started, refine your plan or help your spokesperson become a media pro.
Written by Donna Moenning.