Six Steps to Crisis Management

As COVID-19 races around the world, virtually every organization has found itself preparing for a crisis we all hoped we would never encounter — a global pandemic. It doesn’t matter if you run a global financial institution, a small day-care facility with six employees, an 80-person advertising agency or are the principal of a 1,200-student high school. We are all scrambling to get as prepared for the unknown as possible while keeping the health and well-being of our employees, their families, our clients/customers/students and our communities front and center.

Organizations that have a comprehensive Crisis Management and Communications Plan in place are better prepared to handle the current situation. If you do not have a plan in place, there are several steps to take immediately to set yourself up for success both short- and long-term.

1. Get started on Crisis Management Planning.
Most crises hit at a time when it is least convenient, so, once this crisis has passed, consider dedicating time and resources to the development of a comprehensive plan, if needed, for the future. And you can use what you learned from the COVID-19 scenario to help guide your decisions.

“There can’t be a crisis next week. My schedule is already full.” –Henry Kissinger

Crises come in many types and intensities. For one company, it could be a major product recall or the death of a key executive. For another, it could be workplace violence, sabotage or an employee strike. In other cases, it could be a natural disaster or global pandemic that brings the world to its knees and tests our resolve.

From the start, the executive team needs to create a “crisis management culture” and begin to identify and assess all the potential vulnerabilities of the organization and then create a plan to prevent those vulnerabilities from erupting into a crisis. It is critical to plan for each potential crisis scenario and develop the anticipated responses and actions that must be taken to quickly gain control of the situation.

2. Appoint a Crisis Action Team.

This team should include a wide variety of employees, such as the CEO, CFO, COO, CHRO, legal team, corporate communications and marketing, facilities and logistics, and administrative support. Clearly identify the roles and responsibilities of each of the team members.

3. Identify all of your audiences (internal and external).
An organization’s audiences will vary, but it is important to list all internal and external audiences that you will need to communicate with during a crisis situation.

The internal audiences may include your employees, board of directors, shareholders, contractors, etc. The external audiences will also vary greatly based on the type of organization and could include customers, vendors/suppliers, community leaders and residents, elected officials, labor unions, emergency responders, students/parents, families/victims and the news media.

4. Communicate openly, honestly and often with each of your audiences.

It’s one thing to effectively manage a crisis — and it’s quite another to effectively communicate with your key audiences during and after a crisis.

Communicating openly, honestly and often with each of your audiences is absolutely essential. Tailor your messaging to each audience.

5. Develop draft messages and communications materials for each of the scenarios, tailored to each of the potential audiences so that in the time of a crisis, you are way ahead of the game.

These materials might include the following:

• Letter/email to employees/customers
• Voice mail message script for employees
• Script and presentation materials for announcement/press conference
• Talking points for supervisors/managers
• Microsite of information related to issue
• Social posts/responses to comments
• Internal frequently asked questions (FAQs)
• External FAQs
• Reactive tough FAQs
• Customer call center script/guidance/FAQs
• Press releases
• Fact sheets/corporate overview
• Website copy/graphics
• Corporate media policy reminder to employees
• Advertising materials (as needed depending on issue)

6. Identify the approved spokesperson who will serve as the voice of the organization throughout the crisis.

Many organizations automatically think the CEO or top official is the right choice. In many, many cases, that is likely true. But not always.

The spokesperson needs to be able to confidently and convincingly deliver the key messages in an extremely stressful and fast-paced environment. He/she needs to be able to be strong under pressure, show compassion and empathy when necessary, and be virtually unshakable in front of a TV camera. That may very well be the CEO or Executive Director, but if the individual in that role can’t deliver as needed, you must have someone who can. That decision needs to be made during the Crisis Management Planning process well before a crisis develops.

Proper and deliberate crisis planning will make the situation easier to manage and demonstrate to your key audiences that you are prepared and handling the situation effectively and efficiently.

If you need help handling the current crisis or developing a long-term strategic Crisis Communications Plan, we can help.