10 Steps to Create a Corporate Crisis Response Plan

January 25, 2017 8:26 am Published by

Lately it seems a new crisis unfolds every day. Recently we’ve seen VW (a carryover from 2015), Theranos, Wells Fargo, and Mylan all experience public, yet extremely different crisis events.

What we haven’t seen are countless other organizations who have found themselves in the midst of a crisis event, but were prepared for it and able to mitigate the negative onslaught. Through numerous case studies and my own experience we know that the severity of the aftermath has a lot to do with the preparedness of the organization well before a crisis situation.

The key here is to focus on the BEFORE. Once a crisis hits, it’s too late to get prepared – you’re now in it and in reaction mode, a much more uncomfortable situation to be in. Therefore, every organization should have a written crisis action plan that is regularly reviewed and updated.

Here are 10 steps in creating a corporate crisis response plan:

  1. Identify a crisis response team. This is your go-to group of people in a crisis event. The group should consist of no more than seven people and should include at least one representative from senior management, communications, finance, legal and the board.
  2. Assign group roles. For example:
    • A primary decision maker. A crisis event is not the time to take a group vote. One person should be designed to make all important decisions for the group. It’s a good idea to also identify a second in command, should the primary decision maker be unavailable.
    • A spokesperson who will speak on behalf of the organization. The spokesperson should be the highest ranking person possible.
    • Someone to manage internal communications. Employees, shareholders, board members, etc. are just as important, if not more important, than external audiences in these types of situations. Be sure you have a dedicated person who is regularly communicating with internal audiences.
    • Someone to write the organization’s messages. Depending on the situation there will be any number of audiences and messages that need to be communicated. One person to oversee all messaging ensures consistency and will minimize confusion.
    • Someone to monitor the external message on media and social media. It is critical to determine whether the organization’s message is being received and communicated. Keeping an eye on what the media, internal audiences and external audiences are saying, posting, reposting, commenting on, etc. will help shape the communication channels and messages of the organization.
  3. Create a protocol for notifying crisis response team members. Whether it’s a phone tree, Outlook group or private Google+ group, decide the best way to get in touch with all members, no matter time of day or location.
  4. Develop a list of potential crisis scenarios. An easy way to do this is to conduct a good old-fashioned SWOT analysis. For your strengths and weaknesses, look internally. For your opportunities and threats, look externally. Here you’ll want to focus on the weaknesses and threats, as that is likely where your crisis will arise. Once you make it through the more predictable potential crisis situations, think a little outside of the box. Situations that would be more unexpected, have never happened before, or aren’t typical for your industry.
  5. Develop a list of potential responses. Responses should be flexible as most crisis situations don’t match the exact planning scenarios. Responses can include anything from a building lock down, to creating a script for phone operators, to crafting a public apology.
  6. Match the potential responses to the specific scenarios.
  7. Create generic messaging in advance. For each scenario, identify who the audiences are that will need to be communicated with and create messaging for each. This will be a huge time saver if the crisis response plan is ever enacted.
  8. Identify external supporters. Take a look back at your SWOT analysis from step 4 and focus on any individuals associated with external opportunities. Third-party supporters offer validation not possible through company spokespersons alone. External supporters can speak on the organization’s behalf and share personal experiences that are genuine and compelling. Although not appropriate for all crisis situations, knowing who your supporters are in advance can greatly help expedite your company’s positive messages.
  9. Review and modify. If your crisis response plan is out of date or portions are no longer relevant, it is essentially useless. Regular review and even practicing will ensure that the organization is prepared as possible should a crisis event occur.
  10. Commit to a post-crisis review. The crisis response team should convene as soon as possible after the event to review what worked, what didn’t, and what should be modified for the future. Finding your company in a crisis situation is bad, making the same response mistakes twice is much worse.

Although spending time and money to put a crisis action plan together, a document everyone hopes to never enact, can be a hard sell, it is worth its weight in gold should it ever be needed. Don’t wait until your organization is scrambling in reaction mode as the crisis escalates. Take the time now to put together a crisis response plan. I promise, you’ll sleep better at night.

Jessica Sharp is principal of Maven Communications. Follow her on Twitter @jessicagsharp.

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This post was written by Jessica Sharp

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