Taking the “E-A-R-L-Y Train” for Crisis Management

The headlines seem to come every day. A plane crash in the Alps. A police shooting of an unarmed man. A major data breach at your favorite retailer.

As general consumers of news, we watch and consider how these events affect us personally. As professional communicators, we watch and wonder, “How would my organization react? Would we be ready? How do I prepare for crisis management?”

The questions can literally keep you up at night. But while the idea of preparing for a crisis seems a contradiction in terms, it can be done.   But there are a few things you need to know in advance.

First things first. You must realize that a crisis is the wrong time for an original thought! This high-stakes crisis management moment requires time and preparation beforehand, because there is no faster way to sink your business, brand, or organization than thinking you can just “wing it” – or burying your head in the sand and pretending one would never happen.

The next thing that can cause an organization to stumble during a crisis is a plain and simple lack of appreciation for just how fast news unfolds, how far it travels, and how quickly the environment can change. And that’s the regular news cycle. This is MAGNIFIED in a crisis.

Finally, you must know that crises are multidimensional. There’s the event itself…and then there is how it is handled. And sometimes, it’s the “how it’s handled” part that can get you into even more trouble than what happened in the first place.

So, how do you prepare for the unexpected? We’ve come up with a system called taking the E-A-R-L-Y Train. Here’s how it works.

E-mpower Your Decision Making Team. First, it’s important to identify and empower your high-level decision making team. This is the group of people who will approve all content and plans. And what this team says…goes. It must be a team with authority who can act swiftly. Remember, speed matters.

A-ppoint Company Spokespersons. Next, appoint company spokespersons who will speak in a time of crisis. This may include your CEO, but others with special areas of expertise may be tapped as well. Also, consider whether there are any external experts you may want to tap in a time of crisis. This can include a thought leader you have worked with in the past.

R-efresh Stakeholder, Media Lists. External stakeholders will get involved whether you invite them to or not. They will make comments to the media, online, etc. So, you will want to make sure you stakeholder list is up to date. And you’ll want to take this time to refresh your media list as well – make sure contacts are updated with working email addresses and phone numbers.

L-ist Communications Assets. These days, organizations own and operate many different communications assets that can be deployed to disseminate information in a time of crisis. This can include everything from newsletters and voice mail systems to websites and twitter channels. Think about all the various ways you communicate with audiences and assemble them into a list that can be reviewed to determine which channels will be the best ones to deliver messages to key audiences.

Y-es to Help – Form Crisis Working Group. No single department should act alone in executing all the tasks that need to be undertaken when preparing for or managing a crisis. You’ll need a team of people to help prepare the plans and materials. Look around your organization and identify representatives from legal, regulatory, marketing, public relations, investor relations, and public affairs departments. This team can meet periodically to review your preparation process, including brainstorming possible scenarios that may require a crisis response.

T-rain Your Team. And finally, it’s essential to train the team on dos and don’ts and speaker train anyone who might be asked to speak publicly in a time of crisis.

These organizing steps are a great way to get your crisis plan started. Remember the point about how crises are multidimensional and how, sometimes, how an organization handles crisis management can get it into even more trouble than the crisis itself? Well, the converse of that is true as well. Companies that manage a crisis well often come out looking even better than they did before the crisis. They’ve shown who they are, what they stand for, and that they can excel under pressure.

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