Six P.R. Crisis Planning Essentials

No one wants to think about crises. Successful executive teams are rewarded for focusing on results and strategies to achieve results, rather than what they’d do if their business and reputation were suddenly threatened. Avoiding the negative is human nature. But there are a few simple steps you can take to help prepare for a crisis now—with a minimal amount of time and a clear head—that will be invaluable when and if the worst happens.

Here are six of the key tools and considerations to put in place:

1. Keep Contact Lists Current:

In a crisis situation, the news media and public have no patience for information gaps. If you don’t provide the information they need, they’ll go elsewhere for it and you’ll lose control of your own story. One of the most critical response strategies is to gather and disseminate information fast. Having the ability to reach your audiences quickly and efficiently is critical. To support this, keep contact lists for regulators, government representatives (staff and politicians), employees, customers, suppliers, media and key thought leaders and influencers up-to-date. Set a reminder to review them thoroughly at least quarterly.

2. Determine Your Communications Crisis Team:

There’s no time for organizational planning in the midst of a crisis. Your crisis response toolkit should include an agreed approach to managing communications, including job descriptions and responsibilities. There are typically two ways to assign these roles and responsibilities. Some organizations designate people for specific job descriptions in advance so that everyone knows precisely what role they’d assume in a crisis. Others prefer to assign the roles and responsibilities descriptions as and when needed, based on the situation. Some teams travel frequently meaning key individuals may not be on-the-ground and available if the worst happens. Either way, clearly defined decision-making and support roles should be decided in advance, and can be critical to getting on top of a crisis or issue quickly.

3. Be Prepared to Activate Social and Digital Media:

One of the most effective ways to share information and updates – and to monitor traditional media for misinformation – is through a dedicated webpage and social media tools. Every public-facing organization should have a webpage that can be quickly and easily activated to provide ongoing updates and background information during a crisis. This may be a “dark” page, or an existing “News” section:  the key here is that you know how to access it and update it quickly. This includes ensuring redundancy so someone is always available who knows the password and how to post to your site 24/7.

Organizations should also have a Twitter profile that can be clearly identified with the company. Even if you’re not active on Twitter, it’s prudent to set-up a dormant profile, establish monitoring lists and search terms, and ensure redundancy in social media access and posting skills so you can engage and begin posting immediately if needed, any time and any day of the week.

4. Develop Media Interview Skills and Competency:

A senior, effective, credible and available spokesperson is invaluable in a crisis. A crisis situation is no time to be learning and practicing a new skill and certainly no time for mistake, however innocent or unintentional they may be. Media interview preparation and spokesperson training in advance is a critical part of any effective crisis plan.

5. Standby Contingency Messages:

Crises are seldom completely random.  While the details and timing are unpredictable and by nature surprising, most organizations can plot events or issues that would be most likely to occur and would have the greatest negative impact on their ability to operate and reputation. If the worst were to happen and you didn’t yet have the details, what would you say? Would you immediately take responsibility? Make a commitment to share regular updates? There are some messages and decisions your leadership team can make in advance, to save precious time if a crisis hits. Create a bank of contingency messages that you can draw from and adapt if needed.

6. Create a Graphics Library:

In our social media driven, short-attention-span world, graphics can be the most efficient way to convey complex information. Depending on your organization and risk assessment, helpful graphics might be as simple as a map of your various locations, site and floor layout; a diagram explaining how your technology works; a chart showing your products and where they’re available. An available and up-to-date graphics library can be a critical resource if you need to share information quickly in a crisis.


None of these essentials are particularly time consuming or costly, but mitigate immeasurable reputational risk and can save you hours or even days of scrambling if a crisis hits. There’s still lots of time to put these in place in 2015:  make it a goal for crisis planning success.