Why does every organisation need a crisis communications plan?

Crisis communications is currently the biggest buzzword in the PR sphere, with businesses everywhere needing a steer and guidance when chaos ensues.

Crises can result from a single devastating event or a combination of escalating events and present a severe threat to an organization’s strategic objectives, reputation, and viability. They are episodic and of significant magnitude. It’s common to think of crisis in dramatic terms: natural disasters, people led away in handcuffs, the glare of media lights. But some don’t appear on the nightly news, and some don’t appear on management radar until it’s too late. But what should you do if something does happen?

In a survey conducted by PwC, only 35% of their respondents had a crisis communications plan in place! A crisis communications plan is vital to calm the chaos and overwhelm for all involved, and essential to protecting the businesses reputation. Without one, it’s in the lap of the gods as to how much damage could happen to the business reputation.

According to HubSpot, “a crisis communication plan is a set of guidelines used to prepare a business for an emergency or unexpected event. These plans include steps to take when a crisis first emerges, how to communicate with the public, and how to prevent the issue from occurring again.”

There are some simple steps to follow to get started on a plan:

  • identify the goal of the plan;
  • identify all stakeholders that will need to be informed in case of a crisis; anyone that may be impacted by what occurs, including customer and shareholders.
  • create a hierarchy for sharing information, and what information will need to be immediately disclosed;
  • assign people to create fact sheets;
  • identify and assess example crisis scenarios;
  • identify and answer common questions;
  • identify potential risks in case the plan backfires you have alternatives;
  • set up specific social media guidelines for proactive communication, and transparency throughout, as well as having a team available for reactive communications for negativity on social media to be dealt with instantly.

It’s crucial that ALL internal stakeholders know what the plan is, should a crisis occur – a plan won’t work if people don’t know about it.

Crisis communications is integral in protecting the people, the business assets, and the brand. A businesses reputation is linked to trust therefore it’s vital to manage the crisis as soon as possible and focus on rebuilding trust from the outset. Planning is power when it comes to crisis comms, and the image portrayed by social media will either positively or negatively impact the public perception around the handling of the incident.

Given the 24-7 coverage of news now available, and the ‘always on’ mentality from technology and through social media, combined with consumer purchasing options globally through the internet, if they don’t like your brand then they will go elsewhere. Social media will magnify any bad publicity that’s received, and it leaves a digital footprint that remains on the businesses record for all to find. This highlights the need for proactive communications and instant reactivity on social media platforms should a crisis arise.

When an emergency occurs the need to factually communicate to both internal and external stakeholders is immediate, businesses should provide a sense of accountability, apologise as early as possible, and be clear, credible, and cohesive with their communications.