Crisis communications – don’t wait to create a plan

Does your organization have a crisis communications plan that you could actually put into action at this very moment?

All of the hubub surrounding the Susan G. Komen decision to stop funding Planned Parenthood and then their reversal of that decision following a 72+ hour firestorm of public outrage should have scared the bejesus out of you.

If an organization as large, powerful and well respected as Komen can get into that much hot water — and is that ill-prepared to handle it then what in the world would happen to you if there was an accident on your job site, if your CFO embezzled funds or if made a mistake that cost your client a huge sum of money?

Don’t be so naive to think your organization is immune to a crisis that would put you in the crosshairs of the media and the public.

Odds are you are not well prepared.  You don’t have a real plan.  You aren’t ready to respond.  Can you say, Danger Will Robinson? (a reference for my 40+ crowd)

One of the presentations I am often asked to give at conferences etc. is on this very topic.  I decided to share it with you here so you can liberally steal some ideas that will help you get your organization prepared. (email subscribers — click here)

In the presentation, I outline the 5 key elements to a successful crisis communications plan.

  1. Be prepared – you can’t wait until you are in crisis.  News today is spread in seconds, not days.
  2. Listen and monitor – be on the look out for trouble before it hits.  Put out the single flame before it becomes an inferno.
  3. Be human and humane – everyone makes mistakes.  But you’ll be judged by how you handle the mistake.
  4. Over communicate — silence or “no comment” don’t fly.
  5. Create community – build supporters and advocates before you need them.

[slideshare id=11418636&doc=crisiscommunications-120204101816-phpapp02]

We’re doing a lot of this sort of planning with clients today.  But most companies will choose not to invest the time and energy, thinking it will never happen to them.

Don’t be that foolish.

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9 comments on “Crisis communications – don’t wait to create a plan

  1. Mary Schmidt says:

    Good post. However, Komen’s problem wasn’t lack of preparation or even naivete. It was a particularly lethal combo of arrogance and ignorance. Like many Big Clueless companies/groups, they thought they still controlled the message. And that people would believe whatever they chose to say without question. Their ignorance of social media combined with that arrogance was the root cause of the firestorm. No crisis plan can “manage” that lethal combination.

    1. Mary,

      No argument but someone within the organization or advising the organization should have seen DISASTER in big bold letters and interceded. Part of a good plan is having people in place who have not only the right but the responsibility to call foul before something this big happens.


  2. Chris Nolte says:

    Great presentation. I am going to suggest you present this for a group I belong to. Can you provide a copy of just the Air Force template?

  3. Amy says:

    How do you think Komen should have handled their situation?

    Also, everyone raves about how FedEx handle the situations with the youtube video of their employee throwing a tv/computer monitor. Do you agree that they did a good job or what else could they have done?

    1. Amy,

      First and foremost — they should have done some legwork to gauge what the public’s reaction was going to be and let that temper both their decision and how they handled teh announcement.

      If they decided to go ahead despite what they learned when they did that legwork — I think Komen should have been very transparent about their motivation. We’re all assuming it was politically motivated and because they never addressed that accusation, the assumption remains. Rather than hide behind some legalese — they needed to step up and say in plain language — this is what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.

      Second — in the absence of being that forthright at the beginning — when things started to go sideways — they should have stepped up, identified a spokesperson for the organization and dealt with the controversy — with facts, clarity and a willingness to answer all the questions.

      Their silence and weasel words are what got them so deep in the weeds with people.

      How about you — if you were giving them a recommendation, what would you have said?


  4. Sarah says:

    As a US government employee, I can tell you (without revealing any specifics) that our organization must have a crisis communication plan. Unfortunately, we seem to manage by crisis most of the time… These are great tips 🙂

    1. Hey Sarah,

      Thanks for adding to the conversation. I can only imagine how challenging it is to work in an environment where you are running from crisis to crisis. Sounds like your plan could use a tune up, so you don’t have to let the crisis manage you guys too often.


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