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In Hot Water Without a Crisis Communication Plan? Keep Your Cool with These 5 Tips

If you’ve found yourself in a crisis and you don’t have a plan, don’t panic! Crisis management is a well-trod path, and we’re here to walk you through it. Follow these five tips to make it through this challenge with ease.

1. Take a Beat
First, take a deep breath. Try to relax. Stressed-out people tend to make rash decisions, and that extends to determining how to respond to a crisis. In many cases, a brand’s rush to respond can make matters worse. (If you’re familiar with the Cinnamon Toast Crunch shrimp tails situation, you know what I’m talking about.)

Next, take stock of the situation. If the crisis has a high probability of attracting media interest or widespread attention, urgent action should be taken. However, if awareness of the crisis is limited to a small group of stakeholders with limited probability of spreading, a “wait and see” approach may be the best course of action. If you’re not sure, a crisis communications agency can help you evaluate how best to respond.

2. Assemble the Team
One of the most important steps in crisis communication management is ensuring the right organizational stakeholders are in the loop. Your crisis communications team should comprise major organizational decision-makers, individuals who have direct knowledge of or proximity to the crisis, and team members who are in charge of internal and external communications. Most importantly, ensure that the individuals in your crisis response team are individuals you can trust.

Consider this list as you build your team:

Organizational decision-makers

  • C-Level executives
  • Corporate counsel/legal representation

Individuals in proximity to the crisis

  • Department head
  • Regional leadership

Communications leadership

  • Heads of marketing and communications
  • PR and/or crisis communications agency

3. Consider Your Audiences
Rarely are PR crises confined to one audience. That’s why it’s important to think through the varied groups of stakeholders for whom you need to craft communications, and map the ecosystem of channels you can use to communicate with each group.

Consider this list as you think through per-audience messaging:

Internal stakeholders

  • Employees
  • Directors
  • Funders
  • Shareholders

External stakeholders

  • Customers
  • Media
  • Government

4. Prep Your Response
When you’ve determined that a crisis communications response is necessary, it’s time to draft communications. Fortunately, though situations will vary, the essential approach remains the same. Crisis communications in Denver are the same as crisis communications in Detroit. And crisis communications relative to one issue call for the same approach as another issue.

Keep statements short and to the point. Demonstrate empathy and compassion. Be aware of privacy considerations if they apply. Communicate what you’re doing to address the crisis.

Most importantly, do not draft crisis communications in a vacuum. Ensure that the members of your crisis response team — each of whom should come with a different perspective — have the opportunity to review the communications.

5. Write a Plan
If there’s a positive side to facing a crisis without a plan, it’s that you’re not likely to make the same mistake twice. Now that you’ve made it through the crisis, it’s time to take what you’ve learned and put pen to paper. In addition to the aforementioned tips, think about including guides for responding to likely scenarios, canned statements and escalation protocols for front-line employees.

At Communications Strategy Group (CSG®), we have helped brands across a variety of industries build crisis management into public relations strategies. Find out how we can fulfill your crisis communication needs.