What’s Your Crisis Management Plan?

Crisis management is not about what you do when a crisis hits. It is clearly about what you do in advance of a crisis. Two years ago, a survey of major corporate executives by Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman and Levick Communications revealed that:

  • 60% of respondents stated that their companies have a crisis plan in place.
  • Among those with crisis plans, 56% said they felt somewhat confident in their plans, but a third of them stated that they could not recall the last time they reviewed or revised their plans.
  • Noting the kind of crises they had faced over the prior three years, 42% of respondents said their companies had faced a government inquiry or investigation, 24% said their companies faced a natural disaster, 24% said they experienced a data loss or security breach, 21% had a worker accident or death, and many companies faced multiple crises through this period.
  • 63% of respondents stated that their companies do not conduct annual training drills to test their plans or ensure that employees know what to do when a crisis hits.

It is rather startling to think that 40% of major companies do not have any crisis management plan in place, and that among those that are in place, a third of them have not been reviewed or revised over an indeterminate period. This is a formula for disaster!

As companies do approach crisis management planning, they should factor their ability to leverage the resources at their disposal, including all of the communications platforms that they regularly command. With the growth of social media platforms for business communications, those resources are more diverse now.

Some companies, according to a 2013 survey by Price Waterhouse Coopers, do not yet see the value of social media platforms among their crisis communications assets in outbound communications about a crisis, but many do see their value in gathering data and information in a crisis. According to the survey:

…more than half of the respondents – 57 percent – do not officially use social media as a crisis management resource.  For companies that have begun integrating social media into their crisis management efforts – Facebook and Twitter cited the most often – not all are seeing improvement in their capabilities. Thirty-eight percent of survey respondents are modestly leveraging it as a tool, but not necessarily seeing improvements in their capabilities, whereas eight percent of respondents believe that social media has become an enabler for their organization to proactively identify and respond to crisis events.

Every major organization will face a major crisis or multiple crises at some point in their history – and more likely sooner rather than later. It is more a question of when than if. Yet it is never too late to formulate a crisis plan. Some basic tips for getting started should include the following:

Threat Assessment

A company must conduct a thorough and structured threat assessment – likely through a team of external media experts – so it knows the likeliest source of a crisis to aid in planning.

Identify a Crisis Management Team

The top leadership of a company must be recruited into the decision-making protocols for crisis management. It cannot merely be a function of the legal staff, corporate public affairs team, or the communications shop.

Media Training and Drills

Anyone who may have to conduct a media interview or lend their expertise to company messaging in the midst of a crisis in the future must face the firing squad through intense media training under simulated crisis response or war gaming.

Resource Development

Messaging resources should be developed in advance of crises, including fact sheets, statements and other media tools so these templates can be adapted to the crisis specifics in the future.

Reputation and Visibility Programs

Strong reputations are built over time through the dissemination of positive news and information online and through traditional media relations. Building relationships with key journalists and third-party stakeholders, as well as using blogs, social media accounts, issues education videos, and websites as important messaging tools and platforms are fundamental to establishing preparedness for any crisis.

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