|On-line Readings in Public Relations by Michael Turney|
|Planning for public relations during a crisis|
|© 2008; 2016 Michael Turney||Table of contents||Practicing Public Relations
|About the author|
Will a power outage become a crisis? A lot will depend on whether you have, and can find, a working flashlight.
"First you've got to find the flashlight. ... You know you have one; you just can't remember where you put it last. ...
"If you plan for this potential crisis during the day, when the lights are working and the sun is shining, one of the first things you may do is calmly locate the flashlights.
"In assembling a crisis management plan for your business, all you are really doing is locating your own versions of the flashlights well in advance of the actual crisis."
Crisis Management:Planning for the Inevitable (1986)
Think of a crisis communication plan as insurance.
There are those--usually people who've never experienced a crisis--who say planning for a crisis is a waste of time because it's planning for something that may never happen. And besides, they add, once they're written most crisis plans simply sit on a shelf or in a drawer and gather dust.
There's some truth in these observations but, remember, most insurance policies are also for things that never happen and they too sit in drawers gathering dust. But, just as those reasons aren't good enough to forego having insurance, neither are they good enough reasons to forego having a communication plan for crisis situations.
"Planning (is) the common denominator for successful crisis management and for effective media relations," according to pr reporter (11/12/01). "No matter the crisis, no matter the issue ... your organization must devote resources to crisis management planning."
Plan to deal with the worst case scenario.
The same way a smart car-owner buys enough insurance to cover medical bills for several injured people and totally demolished vehicles, the smart crisis planner prepares to handle the worst possible crisis that could occur. Then, in the case of a fender-bender, or if a lesser crisis occurs, you're covered. It's fairly easy to scale-back and deal with a lesser incident when you're ready for big trouble, but trying to cope with something worse than anticipated can be extremely difficult and risky.
At the same time, it's important to be reasonable and to match your level of planning to the likely level of risk you face. Just as it's possible to waste money by being over-insured, it's possible to waste time and resources by over-planning for unlikely crises.
Decide who should do what.
The number of people involved in a crisis communication team and their specific assignments differ from organization to organization depending upon the organization's size, location(s), type of business, and specific characteristics as well as the number, skills, and backgrounds of the people who are available to assist with handling the situation.
An effective crisis communication team usually includes trusted and well-prepared employees who have been assigned to cover most, if not all, of the following positions. For some organizations and circumstances, only one person is needed in each position. In other cases, a single set of duties may require several people to adequately handle it, possibly people who are performing essentially the same tasks but at different locations.
- official spokesperson publicly announces all new developments, explains the organization's position, and handles media interviews;
- liaison with the organization's upper-level managers who are making decisions and directing the operations staff who are, in turn, working to resolve the crisis; Depending upon the organizational culture and the number of qualified communicators available, this role may be handled by the director of communication who should already be "at the table" actively participating in the decision-making or by a lower-level communicator who will be in the room as an observer and support person in addition to the director of communication.
- employee liaisons keep employees and, when necessary or appropriate, their families fully informed of what's happening and how it may affect their jobs and their paychecks;
- investor & financial community liaison focuses on individual investors, brokerage houses, and financial institutions; Having someone in this role may only be necessary if your company issues publicly-traded stock, is heavily in debt, or is unusually tied to the financial community. Remember, if your company issues stock, the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission has special rules about the release of any information that could affect its stock price and/or its investors.
- media facilitators assist reporters and photographers in getting to/from the crisis site, arranging interviews, obtaining background information, etc.;
- e-mail and call-screeners handle and route all crisis-related phone calls that come in to the public relations office, emergency phone lines, or the general switchboard as well as answering and/or forwarding all crisis-related e-mails that come to any of the organization's general e-mail addresses;
- writer/researcher/fact checkers assist the official spokesperson and key liaisons in verifying information and preparing statements or responses;
- on-the-scene monitor at the actual crisis site serves as an observer, reporter, and contact for the spokesperson and management liaison.
The creation and assignment of these special crisis positions does not in any way to alter or detract from the authority and responsibility of the organization's director of communication. Regardless of his/her official title and any special role that he/she assumes during a crisis, the director of communication remains at the top of the communication chain of command and guides the operations of the reconstituted or expanded crisis communication staff to the full extent of his/her usual level of authority.
Determine the best place for each of them to be.
Because they're geographically dispersed and don't have all operations centralized in one place, some organizations will need to have several people performing nearly identical duties in different locations. The number of locations and which functions are handled at which location will vary tremendously but are likely to include most of the following:
- Having someone at the actual crisis site is critical, if there is a specific site. But, many of the most troubling and long-lasting crises are wars of words -- allegations of wrong-doing, moral or financial scandals, etc. -- or other non-site-based, ephemeral situations.
- In some crisis -- most often law enforcement situations, natural disasters, or major, on-going incidents such as fires or environmental clean-ups -- an emergency operations center (EOC) will be established so key decision-makers (sometimes from different organizations) can work together to resolve the crisis. In such cases, every organization that has a role in handling the crisis is likely to want its own communication personnel on hand in the EOC.
- Organizational headquarters or corporate offices may not require any special communication staffing if an emergency operations center is established, but it is a critical communication location when there is no EOC. It is, by default, where the most important officials' offices are and where official decisions and policies are usually announced.
- One or more media centers may be set up in locations either adjacent to--for convenience--or intentionally away from the site and/or the decision-makers--to try to control/limit media interference with crisis resolution activities. In addition to being a meeting place where the media come to get information from the communication team, media centers should also provide support services for the media such as work space, phones, computer interfaces, copy and fax machines, background information, and refreshments.
- The public relations office should always have at least skeleton staffing even if most of the action/communication is occurring elsewhere, because many publics, including the media, who are used to contacting the public relations office for information may not be aware of the media centers, the EOC, or the specific crisis site and may call the regular public relations office phone number for assistance.
- Field offices or branch production facilities where the organization has lots of employees or does lots of business may also require special attention and on-scene communicators depending upon the nature of the crisis and the organization's culture.
Draft a crisis communication line-up and contact list.
Once the roles and locations have been determined, specific people must be designated to handle each responsibility. Usually the primary person and at least one designated back-up who could step in as substitute are listed for each position along with their office and home phone numbers, pager numbers, and other means of getting in touch with them 24 hours per day, seven days per week.
Distribute and review the plan.Don't store all copies of the plan in the main office until it's needed. The people who will be expected to use the plan need to be familiar with it and, if a crisis should happen, the plan will be totally useless unless it's instantly accessible to everyone with a role in it. Those occupying key positions should have copies of the plan, relevant fact sheets, contact lists, and a kit of necessary office tools and supplies so they can operate from home or a remote location as quickly as possible.
Periodically review and update the plan, and be sure such updates are distributed to all designated players. It is also critical that outdated versions of the plan be collected and destroyed to avoid confusion during the midst of a crisis.
"Having a crisis plan in place and tested isn't some no-brainer public relations tactic that practitioners simply tout to boost their bottom-lines. Crisis preparation is a business necessity, a bottom-line discipline that often decides which organizations live and which ones die.
"Accidents happen. Mistakes occur. People screw up. Crises strike when you least expect. Nothing's going to change that.
"But what companies can change is how they deal with bad things that threaten their existence. Having a crisis plan isn't mandatory, but it sure can make top executives at companies who have good ones look like geniuses."
Public Relations Tactics (Nov. `94)
If you need to prepare a crisis communication plan
You may find Six Steps to Preparing a Rudimentary Crisis Communication Plan helpful. It's a ready to print pdf file that includes a tipsheet and formatted worksheet for developing a basic crisis communication plan.
It may not have all the bells and whistles some plans have, and it is not a ready-to-use, one-size-fits-all plan in which you simply fill in the blanks and instantly issue a crisis update. It is, however, a good starting point for an organization that does not yet have a crisis communication plan and wants to develop one.
|Overview of crisis communication
Crisis portal page
|Stay well-informed to be ready
when a crisis hits
|Performing public relations in a crisis|
The Olympics of public relations.
|Coping when a crisis hits||Covid-19 has taken notions of "crisis response"|
to a whole new level.
5 Sept. 2020