As recently proven with Coronavirus, every business should be prepared to handle a crisis.

Now that we’re all in the middle of a worldwide crisis, it seems like a good time to talk about crisis planning and management.

Every company will experience at least one crisis during their lifetime. It could be the resignation, firing or passing of an owner or founder. It might be a sticky legal or financial issue, or a product malfunction. Any problem that poses a threat to your company, that has the potential to take customers by surprise, and/or demands immediate action can be considered a crisis.

If you had a new crisis tomorrow, how would you reach your customers? What would you say? I have found that many — if not most — companies don’t have the necessary tools in place to efficiently respond to a crisis. In fact, I’ve found that too many companies don’t even have a system in place to quickly and easily reach out to their customer base to relay an urgent message.

This Crisis Communication Checklist is a great tool to help prepare your business for the next crisis. Here’s a preview:

Develop a Pre-crisis Plan

The first step is to put your imagination to use. Convene key personnel and brainstorm potential risks and crises. Identify your company’s threats, weaknesses and vulnerabilities. List potential crises and categorize them as technical, financial, malice, natural disasters, rumors, workplace violence, or workplace episodes. This will help you determine who should help you respond.

  • Build a Crisis Squad. Choose a spokesperson (in addition to the CEO/owner) with the right skills and the right position – credibility is important. And they MUST have media training. Put together an internal team to create the crisis plan. Meet quarterly to update it.
  • Line up law and PR firms. Some events need careful messaging or you may risk legal repercussions. Pick a law firm with expertise in the crisis area you’re experiencing. Choose a PR agency with trained crisis communications experts and experience working with law firms.
  • Establish notification tools. Ensure that you and other stakeholders can receive information information in an instant by phone, text, social media and/or email. Examples include Google Alerts, Mention, and Brand24.
  • Identify your audiences and messages. List your stakeholders and their contact info – each audience will require different messages and timing. Develop a list of media contacts too, and keep it updated. Build a press release template and a press kit with facts about the company.
  • Develop holding statements. Each crisis category needs a core statement that can be modified as needed. For example, when the crisis involves your employees: “The health, safety and security of our employees is our number one priority…”

Crisis Plan Implementation

When the inevitable crisis hits, put your plan into action – take a deep breath and be ready to acknowledge the situation. DO NOT APOLOGIZE right away until you have the facts. Your crisis communication plan and checklist will be critical in hours immediately following the crisis, when communication will be most important.

  • Contact your frontline responders. Call your PR and law firm, depending on the level of crisis. Contact your spokespeople immediately.
  • Hone initial statements. The next immediate step is to expand your holding statement with the event facts. This is your opportunity to control the narrative with facts directly from the source.
  • Communicate with employees first, then with other stakeholders. Keep emotions out of the way — just stick to the facts. Reiterate how important it is that employees refer all questions to your company spokesperson. Employees should not post or respond on social media unless given the okay by the crisis management team.
  • Develop follow-up statements. All updates must be factual and brief until the team is ready to provide a full story.
  • Respond to media requests. Answer media requests in writing whenever possible. Make it clear that employees should NEVER speak to the media on their own. All media communications should be handled by designated crisis management team members.

Post-crisis Debrief

After the crisis, evaluate the results and make adjustments to your plan with your crisis management team.

If you’d like to explore crisis planning and management more in depth, let me know. Marketing Department, Inc. has trained crisis management staff ready to help you create a plan tailored to your company.

Even if you aren’t ready to consider working with a firm, I encourage you to take steps internally on your crisis planning. It can save you a lot of stress and money when the next crisis hits.