Every organization will go through a crisis at some point. Whether that’s a crisis in the organization or an external crisis that impacts your organization – communications challenges and crises are inevitable. And that is why it is important to plan now. If you’re planning in the midst of a crisis, you’re already behind. Here are four things to consider as you’re developing your crisis communications plan.
What is Crisis Communications in Public Relations?
A communications crisis is a time-sensitive, public challenge without an immediate solution. It may be a crisis if:
- You are facing a challenge right now
- You did not see this coming
- This is a problem without a prepared solution – it can only be managed to a resolution.
- Immediate legal counsel may be needed to navigate this challenge.
What a Communications Crisis is NOT
Just because a situation is uncomfortable or unwelcome, it is not necessarily a crisis. It may not be a crisis if:
- You are facing a longer-term challenge
- You knew in advance this exact thing would happen
- This is a problem with a clear path to a solution
- You can learn from your peers and stakeholders to find a path forward
- You can involve legal counsel, but may not need it and may not need to be driven by it.
Define Your Goals and What Success Looks Like in the Event of a Crisis
Success is not always defined by the crisis going away – sometimes that’s just not realistic. But, maybe success means all your donors get their questions answered and are comfortable with the path forward. Maybe it means minimal press coverage. Decide what success looks and make sure your communications strategy and tactics track towards that.
Identify and Prioritize Your Audiences
In the event of a crisis, who are the key stakeholders, partners, board members, funders, etc. who need to hear from you? Make a list and prioritize them. If possible, assign owners to each group. For instance – maybe your executive director will be tasked with contacting the board, the board president will notify top priority funders, and your communications lead will own developing public-facing materials for key constituencies and distribute them via social media or other means.
It is important to note that in a crisis, prioritization is key. Identify who needs to be involved in problem-solving and notify them first. Then, determine who needs to know next and why.
Take Stock of Your Public-Facing Communications Tools
At your disposal, you may have email lists, direct phone calls, a website, social media, etc. Match which tools are best to reach each priority audience. Are some audiences best informed by a direct phone call? Do you need to post on social media to reach a general audience? As you are assessing which communications tools you will use in a crisis, determine:
- Who holds passwords and access to these tools?
- Can you gather key contact information in one accessible location? Be prepared with a plan to make sure someone can access accounts if the main person is out of the office or unavailable.
- Have a plan in place for who to inform, how, through what channel, and in what order.
We understand that the fear of crisis moments can sometimes keep communications directors and executive directors up at night. That is why we believe in developing a plan BEFORE you have a crisis on your hands.
Need help right now?
FCP is a crisis communications firm in Oakland guiding local and national clients through the crisis management process. We’ll complete an organizational risk assessment, map out your crisis communications plan, and help to quickly deliver your message in the face of an emergency. Contact us today to get started!