Clarity Amidst Chaos

Tips for creating an effective crisis communications plan.

Every business faces the potential to experience a crisis. Although a crisis can vary in terms of severity, proper planning can greatly increase a company’s resiliency and ability to remain strong. With this in mind, every business plan should contain a crisis response, including a solid communications plan.

A comprehensive crisis communications plan equips you with the proper tools to keep your key stakeholders informed, minimizing reputational risk and perhaps, most importantly, allowing you to help control the message. Since a crisis communications plan will be used to contact your key stakeholders, an essential first step is identifying who they are. Typical examples include:

  • Customers
  • Employees
  • Media
  • Vendors
  • Local emergency responders
  • Local officials

When creating this list, be as specific as possible. It’s easier to compile your contact list prior to a crisis rather than during one. It’s also imperative to include when and how to contact each stakeholder if a crisis occurs. Having multiple communication channels (i.e., cell phone, social media, website message, news release) will be a tremendous benefit to broadcasting your messaging.

When developing your plan, it’s crucial to understand when it will be implemented. What risks could your company face, and what are the circumstances that would require you to put your plan into action? Crises may include:

  • Natural disaster
  • Data breach
  • Social media crisis
  • Sudden loss of an executive

What these all have in common is the possibility of becoming a reputational crisis if they are not handled effectively. As a manager, it’s important to look for signs of a possible crisis before it happens. Proactively dealing with a minor issue in its early stages can effectively deter it from becoming a “smoldering issue.”

For each crisis you identify, draft messaging targeted to each of your key stakeholders and get approval from your company’s management.

Another essential part of your plan is open and honest communication. Communicate what you know, when you know it and acknowledge when you are still in the process of gathering information. Also, unless there is a legal obligation to do so, it’s also important to avoid using “no comment” in a crisis situation.

Finally, once your plan is complete, it is essential to monitor and periodically review it. Situations change, and people change positions – your plan should also change as a result. Conducting periodic drills ensures that everyone on your team is prepared, and will help identify any parts of your plan that may require revisions.

About the Author: Amy Copeman is the administrator of corporate communications at NJM Insurance Group and a key member of the company’s crisis communications team. 


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