4 Best Practices for Developing a Crisis Communications Strategy

If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s to expect the unexpected. But even when the unexpected occurs, there are actions business leaders can take to help mitigate the impact and successfully navigate through a crisis. Whether you have a crisis plan in place or need to develop one, there are several best practices and resources that should be considered for any effective crisis communications strategy.

Plan for rapid response

A company’s ability to respond quickly to a crisis can be the difference between survival or going under. To expedite the process and ensure quick action, company leaders should clearly outline the chain of command for communications decision making. During the planning phase, it’s important to develop, or to engage a crisis communications firm to help you develop, template holding statements that can be tailored to specific situations or crises. These predetermined strategies can be adapted to any situation and allow organizations to react as quickly as possible.

Establish roles and responsibilities

In addition to developing content, it’s essential to clearly delineate roles and responsibilities during a crisis situation. Identify company spokespeople and develop clear policies around who is and is not authorized to speak to the media. Then, in addition to training spokespeople ahead of a crisis, arm those who are not authorized to speak to media with a simple, short statement to use when deferring inquiries to the appropriate person. A simple “I am not an authorized spokesperson, but I can put you in touch with someone who can help you” is all that is needed.

Teams should also be trained to monitor social media trends and feedback, with clearly outlined responsibilities and strategies for responding. Consider designating an individual or team, either in-house employees who understand social media or a communications agency adept in this space, to monitor what is being said about the company or crisis online in real time, with a well-defined process for notification and / or escalation to internal leadership if need be.

Prioritize employees

Retaining clients and customers may feel like the top priority during a crisis. However, communicating to your internal audience is equally important. In fact, there are many times when you should prioritize communication with your internal audience ahead of external stakeholders. During a crisis, it is best for those directly impacted to hear company updates from internal leadership before they go public. Whether that be a leadership change or staff layoffs, transparent, open, and honest communication will go a long way in enhancing employees’ trust and helping to protect your brand.

Engage external audiences

Transparency and honesty are also critical when communicating with external audiences and give companies the best opportunity to manage and mitigate difficult situations. Depending on the situation and severity of crisis, leaders may want to share updates through press conferences, media statements, media interviews, social media, or email communication, to name a few. Updating the landing page of your company’s website or creating a completely separate microsite can also be an efficient way to share real-time updates and provide a centralized hub for all relevant information.

These best practices are a few examples of what company leaders must consider when developing a crisis communications strategy. If you don’t already have a crisis plan, work with your internal communications team to develop one or consult with an outside crisis communications agency to get one in place quickly. Despite the ever-changing landscape, one thing remains certain: The next crisis could be right around the corner.

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Elizabeth Marshall Black

Elizabeth Marshall Black

Elizabeth Marshall Black is a vice president with KGBTexas Communications, one of the largest woman-owned, full-service agencies in Texas, with offices in Houston and San Antonio.

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