Crisis management is something you hope to never be confronted with as a professional, yet you intuitively know and understand it’s something for which you must be prepared. There are many ways to handle and manage a crisis, but it always begins and ends with a plan.
In my experience, I find that less than 10 percent of organizations actually have a crisis management protocol or plan — and even fewer actually practice their response on a regular basis. Why? The boss doesn’t view it as a priority.
Get focused on the importance of a plan
Smart bosses understand the importance of being prepared — the critical nature of practice, rehearsal and messaging.
So, for all of you without a crisis communications plan or protocol, walk into the boss’s office today and say, “I’m going to get started on our crisis communications planning.” I will bet you a doughnut you’ll get one of the following two responses: 1. “Why? What’s that for?” 2. “We don’t need that and that’s not what we’re focused on right now.”
Smart bosses already have a crisis plan in place, review it every six months like clockwork and practice it regularly. Other smart bosses that don’t have this in place are looking to their communications team to proactively suggest and develop a crisis plan in the absence of one, or in the event it’s out of date (more than a year old).
But, as we all know, most bosses just aren’t that smart
Remember, most bosses don’t think in terms of today — they think in terms of tomorrow and how what is happening today will impact and affect the future. It’s critical to impress upon them that the very nature of crisis management is designed not to make a crisis go away, but to respond professionally in a manner that makes the organization and its leadership appear to be in control and mitigate long-term negativity.
If confronted with “we can’t focus on that today, we have X next week,” remember, those types of excuses will always come up. Ask for a good time, and mention that this must be a communications and leadership priority, then work to set and get on a schedule. I encourage the use of a Gantt Chart that details involvement, timelines, anticipated delivery dates and milestones.
Outline the steps
The first step in creating this program is to get the necessary parties involved and sitting at the same table. An email with a request is probably not going to suffice. Sit down and talk to each and every stakeholder that’s part of the equation. Relate to that specific public on the benefits of this program and why they are an important piece.
Anyone who could or would have a direct response with some type of challenge that may come up and affect your external publics should be at the table. Then, you simply begin by establishing a set of protocols and criteria for exactly how you would respond in the event of a crisis.
Who is authorized to speak to the media? How do the communications channels work? Do we have a “dark site” set up? What are we trying to accomplish during a crisis?
Leadership must agree to all of this beforehand, protocols should be established companywide and they should be part of your master document. Clearly, these policies and protocols should be shared with all employees. And, this should be practiced, at least every six months, with mock drills.
Remember, this is only step one. How you communicate to the internal publics both in setting up and creating the plan, then reinforcing the protocols is critical to the success.
If there is no policy or protocol, don’t be angry when a low-level employee goes spouting off to the news media or offering up quotes and responses.
Rodger Roeser is owner, president and CEO of The Eisen Agency. He is also the national chairman of The Public Relations Agency Owners Association and works with other PR firms across the country to assist in their operations and profitability. He can be reached at RRoeser@TheEisenAgency.com