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How to Build a Crisis Communications Plan in Four Steps

How to Build a Crisis Communications Plan in Four Steps

Evan Nierman is the Founder & CEO of Red Banyan, a global crisis PR firm, and author of The Cancel Culture Curse and Crisis Averted.

A crisis can strike at any time, threatening the stability of an organization or the good name of an individual. From natural disasters and cybersecurity breaches, to product recalls and PR nightmares, the potential for crises looms large. But an unexpected emergency doesn’t have to mean disaster. Proactive crisis planning can mean the difference between staying afloat or sinking beneath the waves.

The secret to surviving a crisis is to have a plan in place before you need one.  Failing to plan for a crisis is, in essence, inviting disaster. Decisions made under pressure can have lasting consequences so having a plan of action to follow makes sense. Without a proactive crisis management plan in place, businesses risk exacerbating the impact of the crisis, damaging their reputation, and eroding stakeholder trust. Preparedness is not just a matter of foresight; it is a responsibility.

The adage "the best defense is a good offense" holds particularly true when it comes to crisis management. Proactive crisis planning involves anticipating potential risks and vulnerabilities and developing comprehensive strategies to mitigate their impact. By identifying potential scenarios and preparing response protocols in advance, businesses can minimize disruption, protect their reputation, and safeguard the well-being of stakeholders.

  • A crisis communications team makes sure its clients understand how crises develop, and how to prevent them from spreading.
  • Crisis experts predict possible disasters and steer their clients around these potential problems.
  • Crisis consultants help clients audit their operations and identify areas of concern that could become public controversies in advance.
  • Crisis communications professionals know how to lower the temperature when a crisis occurs, so news organizations don’t pick up the story and increase the damaging effects exponentially.

When developing a crisis response plan, it’s important to remember these four steps:

  • Assemble a crisis communication team ahead of time and choose a designated spokesperson. In the midst of crisis, rumors can proliferate, and misinformation can spread like wildfire. Having a designated spokesperson is paramount for controlling the narrative and ensuring that accurate information is disseminated to stakeholders and the public. The spokesperson serves as the voice of the organization, providing timely updates, addressing concerns, and dispelling rumors. By centralizing messaging and maintaining transparency, businesses can instill confidence and credibility amidst uncertainty.
  • Establish policies and procedures. Effective crisis planning encompasses various elements, including establishing clear lines of communication, defining roles and responsibilities, and implementing mechanisms for disseminating critical information. Knowing who to notify, the chain of command, and the channels for distributing updates are essential components of a robust crisis management plan. Whether through phone calls, email, social media, or text messages, businesses must have the means to communicate swiftly and effectively during times of crisis. 
  • Develop strategies for multiple crisis scenarios, using the “rule of three:
  • Anticipate three types of crises: Instead of focusing solely on one potential crisis scenario, consider at least three different types of emergencies relevant to the organization's industry or context that could affect the organization.
  • Develop three layers of response: Create a multi-layered response strategy that could involve immediate actions to contain the crisis, intermediate measures to mitigate its impact, and long-term strategies for recovery and reputation management.
  • Communicate through three channels: Disseminate information through at least three channels -- such as traditional media channels, social media platforms, and direct communication with stakeholders -- to ensure reach.
  • Practice, practice, practice. Crisis PR practitioners prepare clients to address challenging questions with confidence and authority. A crisis PR manager approaches media engagements with strategic consideration because reputational protection is essential. Drills and simulations to rehearse crisis response protocols ensure smoother navigation during actual crises.

Preparation is the solution. Failing to plan for crises invites disaster, exacerbating impact and eroding trust. Preparedness is not just foresight but a fundamental responsibility of resilient organizations. Not being prepared is a crisis in itself.

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