Crisis communication plans in PR management

Having a crisis communication plan is a great starting point for protecting your organisation's reputation when trouble arises, but you need to be sure it will work when the pressure is on. Stress-testing the crisis communication plan is a great way of identifying crisis plan gaps and helping the organisation to build its crisis response 'muscle'.

Last week we put one of our clients through their crisis response paces. They have a global crisis communication plan for every conceivable incident and once a year we hold a crisis response day for their executive and corporate communication teams. It’s a full-on day of responding to the scenarios we provide and we run it as if it’s all unfolding in real time.  The scenarios invariably include social media comments and news media interests that require rapid response.

This crisis response day proved useful by identifying a gap in the client's crisis plan, strengthening the team's crisis communication and response skills, and highlighting some internal processes that needed tightening.

Effective communication is key to reducing crisis's negative impact and – as the saying goes – practice makes perfect.  Here are some ways you can prevent your organisation's crisis communication and response processes from falling short when a crisis occurs.

Six useful public relations tips for effective crisis management

1)     Think before leaping into communicating.  First take some time to think about exactly what the organisation wants to achieve from its crisis communication – do you want to be perceived as caring about your stakeholders, or convey that you are containing the crisis and you are in control?  Being clear about your crisis communication objective/s will help to frame your response.

2)     Key messages are always important in public relations, but no more so than when it comes to managing a crisis.  Include key messages in your crisis plan, which can then be quickly modified to reflect the nuances of the situation at hand.  Writing effective, fail-safe key messages requires a great degree of skill, so contact usif you would like help.

3)     Give everyone an opportunity to be put under pressure by being interviewed and filmed in mock interviews.  It's a great way of helping everyone understand and overcome the challenges – and potential pitfalls - of tough interviews.  You may wish to consider additional media training [link] for those who are identified as needing further practice.

4)     Social media will proliferate during a crisis so be clear about who is in charge of your digital channels and that they understand your communication strategy.

5)     Remember your internal audiences and prepare appropriate communication for employees and other internal stakeholder groups (e.g. call centre, account managers, etc.). Providing them with up-to-date information, even if you can’t tell them the whole story, will make them feel valued and avoid the rumour mill working overtime.

Journalists may try approaching employees on social media and asking their opinion so ensure all employees know what is expected of them and who to direct any questions to.

6)     During your crisis communications practice day, avoid automatically defaulting to the most senior person on your team to take the lead. You never know when that person could be on leave, so give other managers the opportunity to step up.

The reputation that your organisation has built up over the years can be destroyed in a matter of minutes, so it's not worth leaving your crisis communication response to chance. We hope you get practicing!