By Thom Fladung, Hennes Communications
Only 49% of U.S. businesses report they have a formal crisis communications plan, according to Capterra’s Crisis Communications Survey, conducted in January 2023 with 243 U.S. business executives, all of whom held leadership positions of director or above.
Another 28% said they have an informal or undocumented crisis communications plan – although questions abound as to how such a plan would work. And nearly a quarter – 23% – don’t have one or aren’t sure if they have one. And if you’re not sure, you don’t have one.
Yet, as Forbes reported about the survey, 98% of business leaders who have activated their crisis communications plan say it was effective – and 77% say it was very effective.
At Hennes Communications, we regularly collaborate with organizations on the creation of crisis plans. Here’s how it works.
At its essence, a crisis communications plan establishes who says what, who you’re saying it to, when and how.
We place a great deal of emphasis on the “what.” And that is messages.
Our plans have messages that have been reviewed and approved by the board, by legal, by human resources, by communications – by all the key players – for scenarios that the team we’re working with says are likely.
With messages in hand – knowing what you’re going to say initially for a particular kind of crisis – you’re way ahead of the game. Then you don’t have to spend time while you’re dealing with this breaking crisis trying to figure out what you’re going to say to all the people who are expecting you to say something.
We determine the crisis scenarios included in plans by conducting a vulnerability audit. The leaders of different departments and disciplines that cut across the organization are gathered in one room and asked, what keeps you up at night? What potential crisis are you worried about?
An hour or so of brainstorming usually results in 50 or so potential crises.
The vulnerability audit participants rate which of those are most likely.
Then, the most likely scenarios are ranked for which are most potentially damaging – to the ability to operate, to the services provided and to the organization’s reputation.
That usually results in about a dozen potential crises that are most likely to happen and that then would be most damaging.
The next step is drafting messages designed to deal with a crisis as it’s happening. That includes the social media posts for Twitter, Facebook or the appropriate social media channel.
All of this positions an organization to be ready to react quickly when the crisis hits. Because when it hits, time is precious – and you don’t have time to just begin thinking about what you want to say and then getting feedback and approval from your board chair or attorney. Your stakeholders are waiting to hear from you. These planned, approved messages help an organization get its side of the story told in the crucial early cycles of a crisis. They establish that an organization is attentive and on it. And we’ve found they are crucial in eventually protecting, defending and maintaining your reputation.
Next, effective crisis communication plans deal with the “who.” The plan lists the crisis communications team, with complete contact info – including mobile phones. With backups for the primary contacts, because the crisis will hit while the crisis team leader is on vacation. And a clear delegation of responsibilities for each team member.
Who is getting your messages? The plan outlines key stakeholders and how to reach them, from phone calls, to email, to social media.
When does this all kick in? The plan should have protocols and procedures for activating the crisis communications team and immediate first, second and third steps.
And, critically, the plan delves into social media, with info on passwords for your sites, instructions for use of social media, guidelines for monitoring, and more.
And each crisis communication plan must be tailored to that organization’s specific needs.
Let’s revisit those survey numbers. Less than half of the 243 executives surveyed said they have a formal crisis communications plan. Yet 98% who had plans and had to activate them said the plans were effective.
Want to survive your next organizational crisis? Have a plan.
Hennes Communications regularly creates crisis communications plans for its clients. All of our plans are customized for your particular situation. For more information, please call 216-321-7774.