1 Confusing Name and 3 Things You Need to Know to Have to an Effective Crisis Communications Plan

Plan-to-FailBy Gerard Braud

Imagine this: You are eating dinner at a major corporate event. The event is only serving soup for dinner. You need only a spoon to eat the soup. However the table is set with a knife and fork. You don’t have the right tool for the right job. In other words, you can’t eat your soup.

Why do you have no spoon and only have a knife and fork? Because one of the top corporate officials declared that each person sitting at the table needed a utensil for dinner.

The terminology is flawed.

Now consider this: As a public relations expert and communications professional, you might not have the right crisis communications plan and tools because of one flawed name. That flawed name is “Crisis Plan.”

Three types of documents are generically – and incorrectly – referred to as a Crisis Plan. This is a confusing mistake for three areas of crisis response.

Every business should have three plans with three unique names. They include the:
1. Crisis Communications Plan
2. Emergency Operations Plan (also called Incident Command Plan)
3. Risk Management Plan (also called Business Continuity Plan)

If you are a communications professional, you need a plan specifically designed to meet your communications needs. Yet many communicators in public relations fly by the seat of their pants during a crisis because the company leadership has told them, “We have a crisis plan.”

I know this to be true because of the large number of public relations professionals who attempt to budget time and money to create the perfect crisis communications plan, but who get resistance from their corporate leaders who boldly declare, “We already have a crisis plan.” Many in PR struggle to explain the differences to their boss. If you are facing the same troubling situation, here are three things you should explain to your boss:

#1 A Crisis Communications Plan is used to properly communicate to the media, employee, customers, and other key audiences during a crisis. A crisis should be defined as any event that could damage the reputation and revenue of the company. Some crises are the result of an emergency, such as a work place shooting, fire or explosion. Other events, such as a high profile sexual harassment lawsuit or executive misbehavior, constitute a crises, yet do not have the characteristics of an emergency that require the emergency response of first responders.

#2 An Emergency Operations Plan or Incident Command Plan coordinates internal and external first responders in an emergency. This is the instruction manual for your internal responders for fires, explosions, and acts of violence. Should an emergency take place, the Crisis Communications Plan would direct the public relations team to share information about the emergency with the media, employees and stakeholders. Hence, both plans would be needed at the same time.

#3 The Risk Management Plan or Business Continuity Plan would help keep the corporate supply chain functioning if there was a significant fire and explosion in a production or distribution facility. The Risk Management Plan minimizes financial and logistical risks by having contingency plans for warehouses, production facilities and transportation options.

If a fire and explosion occurred, all three plans would be executed by three independent groups of experts.

1. Public relations experts would execute the Crisis Communications Plan.

2. Emergency response experts would execute the Emergency Operations
Plan.

3. Risk management experts would execute the Risk Management Plan.

Now consider this. The Crisis Communications Plan would be used every time the other two plans are being used. But the other two plans are often not needed or used when the Crisis Communications Plan is needed, such as in the example of sexual harassment lawsuit.

Now ask yourself and your corporate leaders, do you have all three tools to manage all three of your critical response business functions in a crisis? Or will you be ill prepared because of one confusing name?

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