Do you have a crisis plan? If not, start planning TODAY

Nervous Wreck

As a PR person working for a large company (and hospital), the famous PR crisis phrase, “Tell it all, tell it fast and tell the truth” have never really hit home for me yet. I’m lucky so far– I’ve never had to handle a disaster while working in the field (god forbid). I’ve have, however, dealt with minor crises. Truth is, no organization is far from a PR disaster. A company’s brand reputation can be compromised or seriously damaged in a split second. It’s how you manage the crisis and how you disseminate important information that helps save you from a PR nightmare.

I reflect and evaluate national PR disasters all the time. You have to, especially if you’re not experienced. I think to myself: Did they have a documented crisis management plan? Did they review it in advance? How effective did they disseminate information? Did they seem to have a public information officer (PIO) or joint information system (JIS) organized in advance?

Crisis management is so important to my employer and myself that my boss and I became certified in advanced emergency management by the State of Wisconsin in February. If you’re in public relations, studying to be in public relations or have some sort of role in communications for your company, here are a few tips that I learned in training that can help you get started.

Don’t wait. Many organizations only get their crisis plans underway once a disaster has struck. Believe me, it happens more than you think. Instead, brainstorm possible scenarios or types of disasters that could happen, and start planning for them. In fact, it can be a positive process as you bring together key people to share ideas and examine scenarios.

Develop a communications plan. A swarm of media attention may snag you within minutes of news breaking. Also, think about how you will get information out to staff, supporters, investors and customers. I remember my crisis trainer (and firefighter) reiterating to trainees to get our side of the story out to customers and staff as soon as you can (if not first.) Internal communication is just as important as communication to the public. A communications plan involves identifying a spokesperson, developing press statements, setting up phone lines and finding the most appropriate place to hold press conference(s). I’ll write about this topic next week.

Be prepared to speak to the media. Even if you can’t say much because your lawyer is concerned about liability, plan to say what you can as soon as you can. Make sure your messages show concern, compassion, tell the facts and always tell the truth. That doesn’t mean you have to tell everything, but never, never lie.

Provide media training for senior management and spokespersons. Train before a disaster strikes. A lot of crisis management teams make it a regular part of employee training. The key is to do it regularly so that new people are always trained and those that are already trained, don’t become state. Realize that crises come in all forms. This can be anything from a legal dispute to customer dissatisfaction posted on Facebook. Every crisis requires slightly different responses. Brainstorm and prepare for as many as you can.

OK, PR people. I know you have stories or tips on how to handle crisis situations. Join the discussion and add a comment.

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