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Want To Sell the CEO On A Crisis Communications Plan? Sell The Attorney First

Q: How do you convince leadership that creating a crisis communications plan is a good idea?

 A: We get it. People don’t want to think about their businesses or organizations being thrown into a crisis because there’s been a data breach, or an allegation of sexual harassment, or an inappropriate social media post.

And who wants to spend money on a plan for something that may well never happen? Show me the return on investment on that.

Here’s a fact to share with top management: Your organization’s reputation is its greatest uninsured asset. And how you communicate during a crisis will be noted and remembered by your most important stakeholders – your employees, your customers, your donors, your business partners. Talking about your crisis may be the last thing you want to think about or do in the early stages of a crisis. But those communications will be the first thing your key stakeholders hear about you during the crisis. And, trust us, they’re waiting to hear from you.

If you’re trying to use those arguments to convince a skeptical CEO of the need for a crisis communications plan, the organization’s attorney – whether in-house general counsel or trusted outside attorney – may well be your most important and effective ally.

Who do people call when the crisis hits? The attorney.

Who is charged with making sure the organization is doing the right thing – especially as the inevitable lawsuit looms? The attorney.

Who has one of the greatest stakes in making sure the organization has a strategically sound and already approved plan for who is going to speak, what they’re going to say, who they’re going to say it to and when they’re going to say it? You guessed it – the attorney.

Moreover, the organization’s attorney increasingly is charged with responsibility for risk management. Today, that must include how an organization is going to handle communications. That may be challenging for attorneys, who by nature and training are risk-averse and focused on winning in court – despite the fact that about 95% of all civil lawsuits never go to trial.

A few more reasons to get to know your organization’s attorney now and come to agreement on the value of a crisis communications plan:  In the midst of a crisis, especially one that’s fast-moving, you may find yourself arguing with the attorney about communications strategy. While it will likely be the CEO or executive director who makes the final decisions about what, where and when to communicate, there’s a better-than-even chance it’ll be the attorney’s opinion that wins the argument. Issues of confidentiality aside, you also want to be in the room when these weighty matters are discussed and decided, rather than dismissed summarily. ‘Tis far better to earn that attorney’s trust before the crisis hits.

In our social media-saturated, instant communications world, silence is rarely an option for an organization in crisis. But unplanned communications, done on the fly in the fog of that crisis, isn’t much of an option either. You need a crisis communications plan.

Warren Zevon sang it years ago: “Send lawyers, guns and money. Dad, get me out of this.” The guns and money may come in handy. But to help convince an organization of the value of planning before the crisis hits, give us the lawyers.

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