A crisis communications plan is something companies have in place to use as a guide for external and internal communications during a crisis. The depth of the plan and what it does or doesn’t include can vary widely from company to company. Many companies don’t have a formal plan. It’s easy to push putting a crisis communications plan together to the side as other priorities take precedence.

Well, a crisis is here. Now. 

As marketing professionals across the world are either putting their existing crisis communications plans into action, or scrambling to put one together as they go, communication is key right now. The coronavirus is wreaking havoc on nearly every industry, changing every person’s life. It’s a sobering reminder of the importance of crisis communications.

I liken a crisis communications plan to the safety net of cash financial advisors recommend you have in your savings account; you hope to not have to tap into that money, but it’s there if you need it. A crisis communications plan may seem like a “nice to have” not a “need to have,” but perhaps you, like many, see it differently now.

Below is some information that should be included in nearly every crisis communications plan. Keep in mind that each industry and each company is unique, and as such, there’s no single standard for a plan that works.

  • Communications Hierarchy in Time of Crisis: The most important first step in a crisis is getting the right people within the company immediately aligned. Let this be a quick directory of names, phone numbers and email addresses for people who need to know what’s going on.
  • Internal Communications: Develop a plan for internal communications amid the crisis. Rumors may be swirling; your people want to hear from you directly. Consider including employees, customers and partners.
  • External Communications: Create rough guidelines for what you can share externally amid a crisis. This includes when to speak to the media and reminders of what may be appropriate to share (such as what a company is doing to protect employees) and what isn’t (such as personal information of employees). Social media usage amid a crisis should be included in this section. Produce rough guidelines for when and how to utilize social media to get your message out. Distinguish protocol between external crises and crises happening directly to or within the company, as social media outreach may differ between each.
  • Spokesperson Distinction: Note who should be the one sending messages, talking to the media or addressing customers. Often, it’s someone different for each audience, so consider who would be most meaningful in each situation
  • Identify Potential Crises: It may be impossible to think of every possible crisis scenario that could affect your company (and also a bit mentally painful, I understand), but try to list some potential scenarios that could occur. This practice can help marketing leaders think through areas where they need to add more specifics to the crisis communications plan based on their unique, higher risk areas.

Will a crisis communications plan address every issue that may come up in a crisis situation? Maybe not. But when the stakes are high, sweat is building and people are waiting, the last thing you want to be is scrambling.

Nikki Trojanowski offers freelance public relations, marketing and writing services to companies of all sizes in Indianapolis and beyond.

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