(Writer’s note: Every day in March we’ll have a fresh, free, new article on this topic. If you’d like to dig deeper, you may wish to purchase a recording of the teleseminar called Social Media & Crisis Communications. Here is your purchase link.)
By Gerard Braud
The right fit for crisis communications includes your official website, and a mix of crisis communications channels, placed in a priority and used according to that priority. That priority needs to be established during the planning stages of writing your crisis communications plan. That priority needs to be established on a clear sunny day, when emotions are low, anxiety is low and everyone has clarity of thought and purpose. That priority needs to be tested during crisis communications drills, so that everyone in the organization will trust the crisis communications plan and not second guess the plan on the day of your crisis.
Generally my priorities are:
1) Talk to the media on site (If there are media onsite)
2) Post information to your official website
3) Send an e-mail to all employees with a link to the website and a complete text of what is said on the website
4) Send an e-mail to other important stakeholders
6) Post a YouTube video with your official statement
During the planning stages, let me establish the fact that size matters. By size, I mean the size of your communications team. The organizations that use my crisis communications plans vary in size. The Internal Revenue Service has a huge staff of communicators across the U.S. There are global organizations that have employees all over the world, but some have only one or two people on their global communications staff. There are national retailers with a staff of two. There are manufacturing companies that have no communications staff at all. Therefore, when I say size matters, which tools you use and in which priority you use them is directly dependent upon how many people can help you during a crisis.
If a company has only one communicator on staff, it is difficult to do the basics of a news conference, web statement post and e-mail, and still have time to deal with social media. If a company has no trained communicator, they may have difficulty getting a statement on the web and updating social media at all.
Since so many companies have no trained communicators on staff or because they have only one or two communicators, every crisis communications plan I write is created with a failsafe mechanism. This mechanism takes into account that the person executing the plan may have zero training. I have colleagues in the communications world who disagree and believe that plans should be written for communicators only. That is a flaw, first because is failure to recognize some companies have no designated communicators. Secondly, it is a failure to realize that, in some crises, the communicator may be out of pocket and unable to execute the plan.
Your plan must be so thorough that it dictates that you sequentially do everything that a seasoned, senior communicator would do in a crisis. At the same time, it must be so clearly written that anyone who can read and follow directions can execute it. This is a much more difficult plan to write because it must be thorough, yet simple, while at the time not being simplistic.
When I first set out to write such a plan, the first draft took 150 hours and the second draft took another 100 hours. At 250 hours of writing, I tore it down with the goal to make it easier to execute yet impossible to screw up. That plan now has 1,500 hours of development in it and guess what? It is a living plan, which means it continues to evolve and grow.
I consider plans that state only standard operating procedures to be too simplistic and dangerous. This is because there are no mandates to take action in the plan and there are no timelines that must be met in the plan. You can find them online just by searching for crisis communications plans. Many universities use these flawed plans. On the day of the Virginia Tech shooting on April 16, 2007, the university had just such a plan.
The Virginia Tech plan had not been updated in five years, which means it wasn’t a living plan. It contained no names or contact information for anyone. It had no pre-written statements. The directions were so simple that the entire plan looks like it could have been written by a freshman PR student on their first day in class. The plan simply listed standard operating procedures.
Meanwhile, the thorough yet simple approach I advocate embeds the standard operating procedure with a list of chronological steps to take. It has specific instructions to communicate at specific time intervals. It includes a statement within one hour or less of the onset of the crisis, and again at the beginning of the second hour of the crisis, if it is an ongoing crisis.
Take a moment to add to your to-do list time to review your plan and ask yourself if your plan is a simplistic list of standard operating procedures that can only be executed by a trained communicator. If it is, add to your to-do list the need for a major re-write.
If you have questions, I welcome your phone call. I’m at 985-624-9976. My two-day workshop to write and complete your crisis communications plan is the fastest way to get what you need.