How to Write a PR Crisis Management Plan

In the early stages of creating a business, no entrepreneur wants to think about what could go wrong, but that is precisely what a savvy business leader must do. By planning for crisis communications early in their business’s lifecycle, entrepreneurs can be less worried about being caught off-guard should they face an unsavory situation.

What to Think of in a Crisis Response

The first step in planning a crisis response is recognizing the potential crises that may arise. Of course, a business probably should not be able to plan for specific incidents — if they are, it’s something to fix before it ever gets the chance to become a crisis. However, what businesses can prepare for are general types of crises. For example, a business can prepare plans for an organizational crisis spurred by controversy or a technological crisis caused by an unexpected security breach.

Timing is one of the most important things a business must consider when developing a crisis response plan. When faced with a crisis, a company must be prepared to jump into action immediately. Failing to provide a quick response can make it look like stalling, which could have an even more detrimental impact on an organization’s reputation than the crisis itself. As such, business leaders must prepare their crisis response plans during a time of relative calm because it is often too late to plan when they are in the throes of a crisis.

Another critical consideration in a crisis response plan is the composition of the organization’s crisis response team, wherein each team member should be designated with specific roles and responsibilities. Perhaps the biggest responsibility that must be delegated is the company’s spokesperson. A spokesperson can be anyone in the company, from the CEO to a communications director, legal counsel, or even someone else designated as the point of contact for communications. This individual is responsible for routing communications, which is essential to ensure consistency in the messaging the public receives. 

Components of a Crisis Response Strategy

Once these considerations are implemented, it is time for the business to begin designing its communication strategy. Some of the key factors to include in a crisis communication strategy include:

  • Objectives: A crisis response plan should have a clear set of objectives defining a successful response. Although it can be hard to identify specific metrics for success without knowing the specific obstacles, setting achievable goals, such as a particular percentage reduction in the amount of negative feedback, can allow organizations to prepare for what they need to do.
  • Key messages: The most important part of formulating a crisis response plan is determining the key messaging. Considerations a company must consider when developing what message they want to present include consistency, accuracy, and relevancy to the crisis at hand.
  • Audience: A business must identify the target audience for their crisis communications. In some crises, the audience will be the general public, especially if it is a high-profile, public blunder. In other cases, the crisis might be more internal, and the audience is simply employees or stakeholders. Approaching the wrong target audience can create an even worse crisis, such as what happened with Silicon Valley Bank.
  • Communication channels: The audience will also determine the communication channels the organization will use for its crisis response. Depending on the audience a brand is trying to reach, methods could include press releases, social media, press conferences, television appearances, and more.
  • Protocols and procedures: Finally, a crisis response plan should include particular protocols and procedures on how the team will handle the response. For example, how should an individual respond to media requests for comments if they are not the spokesperson? How will sensitive data be managed so it is not leaked to the press outside the desired timeline? Setting these procedures in advance will ensure everything goes as smoothly as possible.

Adjusting a Crisis Response to the Circumstances

That being said, businesses need to maintain a level of flexibility with their crisis response. It is impossible to plan for every variable in the circumstances, and trying to make a plan conform to situations that do not fit could set a business up for failure. Instead, it is better for a business to form a general framework for its response that can be adjusted to the unique circumstances of whatever situation may arise.

Once a business has developed a crisis communication plan, it is important to see how this plan would play out in action. Some organizations may find success performing mock exercises to simulate how they and their team would respond when faced with an actual crisis. Of course, this should be done quietly and confidentially, as simulations — no matter how well-intentioned — could cause suspicion to arise among the public. However, when done correctly, mock exercises can be an excellent way for organizations to test and adjust their crisis communications strategies.

Businesses must also adjust their crisis response based on lived experience. No matter how well one plans, things will rarely (if ever) go according to plan, and companies must understand that every crisis is a learning opportunity. The public is quick to forgive and forget a single mistake, but if a business gets caught making the same mistake time and again, it will hurt the public’s trust in the organization. Thus, by adjusting their future crisis response plan based on what worked (and what didn’t), businesses can be better prepared to handle future situations.

In an ideal world, businesses would never have to deal with crisis communications, but we all know we do not live in a perfect world. By preparing a crisis response plan well in advance but maintaining flexibility when a crisis does arise, a business can be better prepared to handle even the most unexpected situations that may present a challenge.

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