Are You Ready? Five Crisis Communications Building Blocks

Fran_7396-webThis is a guest post by Fran Stephenson, a Solo PR PRO Premium member who has handled hundreds of crises during her 20+ years in corporate communications, including more than 15 years as a theme park communicator. Her new ebook, “Managing Your Next Crisis: A Step-By-Step Guide for Travel Organizations” has lessons for every industry – and it’s free! Read insights from Fran below, and download the ebook here.

If perception is reality, you would think that companies facing a crisis would be grounded, realistic, and tuned into what’s happening “out there.” Unfortunately, when a crisis strikes, many companies have a distorted perception of themselves and of the crisis itself.

It happens so often you would think every business owner would be scared straight to find us – communications professionals – for help in their future planning. Yet every week, someone, somewhere screws it up because they were unprepared or didn’t know or even worse, ignored the first signs of trouble.

Independent consultants are often called upon to help plan for – or assist during – a crisis situation.

Five crisis communications building blocks to keep in mind:

1. Identify potential crises in advance – Perception is vital in crisis planning and crisis response. John Penrose, author of The Role of Perception in Crisis Planning, analyzed how Fortune 500 industrial companies perceived crisis situations by correlating and interpreting factors related to planning, response, commitment, strategic orientation and external communication. He found that companies who identify types of crises in advance also are more likely to plan for them.

An organization that is able to identify a set of possible crises is more likely to initiate planning activities in preparation for the worst. The magnitude of such preparations seems to be a direct link between an organization’s vulnerability to certain crisis situations and its level of perception toward each potential contingency.

-John Penrose

2. Consider possible outcomes – Solo PR professionals often tackle routine planning activities for clients, and this should include helping clients visualize the potential outcomes from a crisis. This is a good first step to full-blown crisis planning activities.

3. Ask about operational plans – If you are onboarding a new client, don’t forget to ask the question about their preparedness for a crisis. We often assume that if an organization has been around awhile, they must have a plan. It is surprising how many organizations do not have a crisis plan or haven’t thought through the ramifications of a crisis.

4. Find the upside – Penrose found that organizations that approach a crisis as a threat AND an opportunity are more likely to succeed in managing it. Communicate the effects of the crisis in a positive manner and encourage employees to support the company’s evaluation of the situation.

5. Make no excuses – History makes it clear that the general public has no mercy for the unprepared organization. Leave excuses behind and start preparing today!

It’s not hard to find examples of a bungled crisis. The general public is unsympathetic toward an unprepared organization and news media love looking for the organizations’ weak spot during a crisis. Social media channels can rapidly turn an adverse event into a firestorm of opinions and speculation. Perception and planning can make all the difference for your organization’s next crisis.

For more in-depth info on crisis planning, be sure to download Fran’s 21-page ebook, “Managing Your Next Crisis: A Step-By-Step Guide for Travel Organizations.” And if you’re looking for help with your crisis communications, do a custom search for a qualified professional with our Find a PR Consultant feature.

  • KarenSwim

    Fran, thanks so much for sharing your expertise on this subject. You are right in that it seems by now, every organization would fear not having a plan. Crowds gather virtually with clubs and torches in a New York minute ready to take down any person or institution that makes a mistake or misstep. I love the advice you’ve provided here and am looking forward to reading the ebook.

  • I’ve got a few models I use Fran, to help qualify and quantify the scope, scale, impact of various ‘crisis’ scenarios. I use the quotes b/c so much is based on perception, and per my own musings, a lot of that won’t matter when a brand is marketing or ‘crisis’ proof. They earn that b/c this kind of planning, of forward-thinking is part of their culture, along w/ always working to do better and deliver value to its customers, community, employees.

    You’re right on the excuses – @KarenSwim:disqus mentioned the pile on that can happen. Everyone makes mistakes, yet they are so quick to expect perfection elsewhere. And as we know, it’s not the mistake that can be the undoing.. it’s what happens (or doesn’t) happen next that could make all the difference. FWIW.