The worst happens. A fiscal or physical crisis befalls your organization. A trusted, longtime bookkeeper embezzles money. An accident at your plant claims lives and calls into question your safety protocols. A television news reporter is at your door demanding an on-camera interview. You need to act – now. No time to make a plan, right?
Wrong. Dangerously wrong. The worst thing to do when a crisis hits is to react without a plan. While it can take weeks or longer to create a thoughtful, comprehensive crisis plan, even five minutes of focused planning can help you avoid a disastrous misstep.
Here are the steps to creating a 5-minute crisis communication plan that can fit on the back of an envelope or a napkin:
First, take a breath. In a crisis, when the adrenaline is pushing you toward an emotional response, you need clear thinking.
Figure out what you don’t know. Make a list of the questions you need answers to and where you’ll turn to find them.
Assemble the right team. Write down the names of the essential people whose counsel you need to weather this storm. Consider: Who will be your spokesperson? Who will advise you on legal consequences? Who will implement the corrective action?
Decide who needs to hear from you. Besides the news media, what are the other audiences that deserve and expect information – employees, investors, partners, the family members of those affected, your social media followers? Make a list so you don’t overlook any essential audiences.
Establish a process for sharing information – early and often. In an information vacuum, others will fill the void. You need to establish your organization as the trusted source by making it clear that you will share information as you have it. Decide how you will get information out – regular media briefings, e-blasts, tweets, Facebook posts, etc.
Write the non-statement. Saying “no comment” is never an option, even if you don’t really have anything to say yet. Compose a simple statement you can deliver quickly while gathering the facts. The statement should express your commitment to share the facts as you get them, i.e. “We have heard reports of ___________, though we don’t yet have confirmation. We have a team onsite to assess the situation and will provide updates as we have more information.”
Find the right tone. What is the right emotional tone for what happened? Sadness? Compassion? Outrage? Put yourself in the audience’s shoes and ask yourself what tone you would want to hear from someone in your position.
Dealing with a crisis will take time and hard work. But if you take a few minutes to develop a 5-minute crisis communication plan at the start, you can avoid some major pitfalls and move forward with confidence.