Crisis communications plans help companies and causes plan for the “what if” and build a communications roadmap to guide them through everything from natural disasters and data breaches to tragedies and the like. A crisis communication plan is designed to ensure consistency of message, a comprehensive response and to prevent miscommunication (to the extent possible) from exacerbating an already intense situation.
While companies and causes are often driven to prioritize their marketing investments based upon timeliness of need and frequency of use, a crisis communications plan is an investment that should be made proactively, rather than as a follow-up to a crisis situation that was mishandled and could negatively impact the perception, integrity and trustworthiness of an organization. That said, every for-profit and nonprofit works with different populations and what constitutes a crisis is unique to each of these organizations. Here are a few ways to evaluate the need for a crisis communications plan:
Audience served / line of work
For organizations that work with sensitive populations and or minors, an up-to-date crisis communications plan is a must. There are state agencies and regulatory agencies who often oversee this work and a crisis is only amplified when more parties become involved. Further, there are a number of stakeholders with whom it is critical to communicate when a crisis occurs and the chain of communication needs to be fluid.
Let’s take a look at schools for example. When an incident occurs that prompts a school to go on “lock down,” communications must be sent to faculty and staff working within the building, parents, community leaders, media and the list goes on. It is critical that communications reach all of these audiences in a timely manner to prevent the spread of misinformation and to educate people about the reality of the situation. When a crisis strikes, there isn’t time for careful planning. For all intents and purposes, it is “go time’ and a crisis communications plan can help prepare you for that situation.
Likelihood of occurrence
Crises come in different shapes and sizes. Some threats are virtual while others happen in real life. Similarly, the magnitude of a crisis can vary from one extreme to the other. Before building a crisis communications plan it is important to make a list of the potential crises that could impact your business – both internal and external – and rate each based on likelihood of occurrence. This will help to prioritize what needs to be addressed within the context of your crisis communications plan.
As we’ve seen when major retailers have encountered data breaches involving sensitive customer information such as credit card numbers, the news value of a crisis with public impact is high, as is the visibility of the incident. When evaluating the crisis situations that could impact your company or cause it is important to note those that only have internal impact as well as those that will impact the community, the general public and other external audiences. Your crisis communications plan will need to detail an approach for each type of incident as well as the various audiences you need to reach.
Longevity of impact
As the New York region saw with Superstorm Sandy, some crises can have an impact that lasts much longer than others. If your business is without onsite power for an extended period of time, how will the execution of your crisis communications plan be impacted? Are long-lasting crises among the most likely to impact your company or cause? Effective crisis communications strategies address the short-term and long-term impact as well as the associated communications needs. When determining whether you need to invest in a crisis communications plan today or can defer the investment until the next fiscal year, be sure to consider longevity and magnitude of impact among your criteria.
While thinking about the “what if” can be overwhelming, it is important for both businesses and nonprofits to be well-prepared to communicate with stakeholders in the face of a crisis. An up-to-date crisis communications plan can help to keep audiences well-informed and minimize the potential damage to a brand’s reputation and trustworthiness.