Public Relations

Why Every Business Needs a Crisis Communications Plan

Why Every Business Needs a Crisis Communications Plan

You may be a business of one or one thousand, but no matter what your size, I am hoping that you have a crisis communications plan in place. If you are a small business, I am going to assume that you don’t. Hopefully, after you read this, you will begin working on one.

When people hear crisis communication plan, they tend to think that only large corporations need them and that they are only for major crises. In this digital age, that is not the case at all.

As a publicist, I consider a negative review or chatter on social media a mini-crisis. News travels fast, bad news travels even faster. If you do not have a plan in place to handle the situation and act fast, it can spread like wildfire. From an employee getting arrested to a lawsuit, you are at risk.

You cannot predict what can happen, but you can plan and prepare. Here are some tips to help you get started.

1. Establish a Team

A group of top-level decision makers should make up your crisis communications team. It typically includes the CEO, an in-house public relations team and the owners. If you are a smaller business, you should still establish a team of top decision makers. The team will consist of a spokesperson, someone to handle internal communication, and a person in charge of social media. In some cases, your legal counsel will be part of this team.

2. Spokesperson

Your spokesperson will be responsible for speaking to the media and the public. When deciding on this person, make sure that they are very comfortable with the media and do well under pressure. They should be trained in public speaking and have a clear understanding of how the media works. They will be the face of your company.

3. Establish a Media Policy

Create an internal media policy that states who can talk to the media. It should only be your spokesperson. The last thing you want is one of your employees speaking to the media. They are not trained in crisis communications and your story could take a negative spin. Prior to any crisis, set up a staff meeting and explain the plan and the rules. You will also want to write up a policy that says if the media calls, direct them to your public relations department or that appointed spokesperson.

4. Do Not Say “No Comment”

During a crisis, it gets very chaotic and the press will be calling you, texting you and banging on your door for answers. While you may not have all of the answers, do not say “no comment.” It makes you look like you are hiding something. That is where that prepared statement comes in handy. You want to give the press something, anything, even if it’s just two sentences. Anything is better than nothing. And do not avoid them. Take it from a former journalist…they are not going away. Again, avoiding the media makes you look bad.

5. Create a Statement

A statement can be written prior to a crisis. It will obviously have to be tweaked based on the situation, but it can include the company’s history, values and commitment to the community and its employees. Half of your work is done and this will allow you to release a statement almost immediately to the media. Prepare for the most probable questions that will be asked by the media and formulate responses for those questions.

6. Do Not Say Too Much

Part of having a professional response to the media is knowing how much to reveal. Keep in mind that any accidents involving patients must not disclose private information. And, if death is involved, names and specific information may not be released unless the “next of kin” has been notified. In serious incidents, it is also important to always show compassion towards victims of the crisis.

7. Establish a Process

The communications plan must have a timeline that starts with who is notified first when a crisis occurs. From there, every company should have a communication chain to alert everyone within your crisis team about the situation. Set up a pre-determined meeting place for the crisis communications team to assemble. From there, you can address the situation internally.

8. Social Media Monitoring

When a crisis hits your business, today’s news travels faster than ever on social media. You will need your social media expert to be monitoring social media channels 24 hours a day. We’ve all seen news get out of control on Facebook and Twitter. When appointing your social media crisis team, you will want a group who are quick thinkers. Many people get their news and spread rumors on social media. You want to control this area as much as possible.

9. Evaluate Risks

You can’t predict what will happen, but you can plan for what typically happens in your industry. Think about work-place violence, employees stealing, potential law-suits. For example, if you are a restaurant owner, you should be prepared on food-born illnesses, department of health inspections, injuries at your restaurant and bad reviews. They are industry wide issues so make sure you are prepared to handle each one of those. Predict. Plan. Put the fire out.

10. Test it

Hopefully, you will never need to use your crisis communication plan. But, the best thing that you can do is to create a practice test and go through the plan. This will help you to understand if your company is prepared. What challenges did you face? What can you improve upon? After the test, you may need to re-evaluate your plan. I recommend that you do this once a quarter. Remember, it’s better to be prepared!

Keep in mind that you don’t need an extensive 25-page crisis communications plan. As long as you have your team in place, everyone understands their roles, and your staff has a thorough understanding of the media policy, you will be more prepared than many companies.

Remember, news travels fast and bad news travels even faster, especially in this digital age. The more prepared you are for a crisis, the better off you and your brand will be!

About the author

Alison Podworski

Alison Podworski is the owner of Alison May Public Relations, a boutique firm based in Massachusetts. As a former television news reporter and producer, Alison gives her clients that inside edge by knowing when, why and how to pitch to the media. She uses her expertise in journalism to educate her clients in media training and crisis communications. Alison encourages her clients to think outside the box, be bold and do what everyone else is not doing.

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