from pickett&associates … exploring PR, social media and entrepreneurship

Crisis Communication Plans, Part Deux August 25, 2010

Filed under: Crisis Communication — pickettwrites @ 8:33 am

 Wow, the topic of “crisis” struck a chord with lots of you … or you just liked the fact that I alluded to an obscenity in the headline. Nonetheless, the post elicited some good questions as well as dialogue. Keep it comin’! Please share how your company successfully (or unsuccessfully) dealt with an incident!

Meanwhile, I mentioned a “proactive crisis communication plan that establishes processes, procedures and a spokesperson.” I have been asked, “What exactly does that mean?  And who, aside from large corporations, really needs something this extensive?“

Let me take you through the process to explain. I find that the best way to approach a proactive crisis communication plan is to work closely with a leadership team, identifying 10 to 15 potential scenarios that would have a negative impact on the company’s image and ultimately affect the bottom line. This may be the closest this old reporter ever comes to writing fiction, but as we know, all fiction has a little basis of truth. Some premises for scenarios:

  • Any organization that has a facility at which people congregate needs to think about what happens if a client or patron is harmed in any way?  
  • Unfortunately, any organization that handles money runs the risk of embezzlement – an occurrence that makes the organization appear irresponsible and can not only impact the reputation but profitability.
  • Illegal and/or scandalous behavior is becoming more and more prevalent. The clean-cut “guy next door” arrested for some unseemly behavior who is one of your employees will probably require a statement of some sort. Obviously, the jury and judge are there to determine guilt or innocence; hopefully you have an employee handbook that addresses how these situations will be addressed by management as well.
  • Natural disaster or human error that results in damage to the building. The media will want to know about causes, injuries and when will you be open for business again.
  • Not to be flip, but “death” can certainly be a crisis. A good crisis communication plan will include “in the event of death of one of the organization’s leader or spokesperson” as well as a couple of rather gruesome scenarios that can range from a natural cause to a violent end.


The team – which would really be smart to include their legal counsel in this process – reviews each scenario and agrees on an appropriate plan of action and spokesperson. Included in the plan is a complete list of the leadership team’s contact information (including home and cell phone numbers) as well as a similarly complete list of the PR team assigned to handle crisis. All of this information is compiled in one document and distributed to the team; I always suggest they keep a hard copy in their office, another at home and maybe an electronic version on their laptop and/or smart phone. Because it’s my experience that a crisis rarely happens between 9 and 5 when your secretary can reach into the file and pull out your crisis plan.

So, it’s not just about the CEO behaving badly or ignoring good advice, which was mostly the focus of yesterday’s column. The most important thing to remember is this: There are certain things that are going to happen at your organization that are not part of your plan for success. How a business deals with these events can separate a “crisis” from an “unfortunate incident.”  The preparation – and implementation – makes all the difference.


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