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6 Essential Elements of a Crisis Communication Plan

The crises we remember best are the communication disasters; flailing before the public, the hapless CEO grilled by relentless reporters and lawmakers.

Why does this happen? Likely, it’s a failure of crisis communication planning. Which is more common than you think. In fact, a new Capterra study shows that only 49% of U.S. companies have a formal crisis communication plan.

This matters because an effective crisis communication plan ensures that a company’s spokesperson is on top of the facts and dictating how the story gets told.

Add to that, a consistently updated crisis communication plan goes a long way toward preserving brand reputation and keeping companies afloat in an era of heavily mediatized corporate disasters.

How to develop such a crisis communication plan? This article lays out the steps.

What is a crisis?

Companies can’t prepare for every crisis, though. But they should know what one is to get their crisis communication in order.

In its simplest form, a crisis is an unanticipated event or issue that disrupts the day-to-day operations of an organization. A crisis can come at any time and any place.

And these events, which have been getting more frequent and costly by the year, have the potential to create significant financial, safety, security, or reputational harm, depending on the nature and severity of the event.

Crises also come in every shape and flavor.

What are the top crisis types?

Economic crisis

Events or situations like strikes, market crashes, and labor shortages.

Informational crisis

Loss of important information or organizational records, including public and/or confidential records, theft through phishing attacks, social engineering, or the leaking of sensitive data.

Physical crisis

Compromised major equipment, loss of suppliers, or a major disruption at a key operating plant.

Human resources crisis

The loss of a key executive or team member, vandalism, or workplace violence.

Reputational crisis

Rumors and gossip that can significantly hurt the reputation of the organization.

Psychopathic crisis

Unthinkable acts such as terrorism, kidnapping, or even tampering with products.

Natural disasters

Including tornadoes, earthquakes, fire and flash foods, disease outbreaks, etc.

Getting started with a crisis communication plan

To be considered fully prepared, companies must have crisis communication in place for each of these potential crisis types. That’s where the crisis communication plan comes in.

So, what is it? The crisis communication plan is a set of guidelines and activities used to prepare an organization for the knowledge-sharing aspects of an emergency or unexpected event.

Developing an effective crisis communication plan

How then to get started developing an effective crisis communication plan? Well, before writing it, organizations should understand the purpose and scope of the crisis communication plan.

In other words, the company should know what they want to accomplish with the plan and what material will be covered. Examples of the scope and purpose of a crisis communication plan include:

  • Outline the protocols to follow in the event of an incident
  • Define the roles and responsibilities of team members
  • Provide clear action plans for teams to execute

So, what material should get covered in the crisis communication plan? According to our research, here are the six elements that go into an effective crisis communication plan.

6 elements of an effective crisis communication plan:

1. Audience

Whether tacitly or explicitly, we recommend the latter, crisis teams should know to whom the crisis communication plan is addressed, i.e., its audience. Relevant audiences for a crisis communication plan are likely to include:

    • Internal employees and families, made up of:
      • Senior management
      • Crisis response team and other frontline responders
      • All staff
    • Customers
    • News media
    • Policymakers and regulators
    • Suppliers and other partners
    • The community

2. Activation criteria

Crisis communication plans sometimes form important supplements (or annexes) of larger incident plans. That means they are only activated when the incident in question necessitates communicating.

Organizations must, therefore, consider the kinds of incidents that typically trigger the need to communicate with the public. Examples might include:

  1. Public health crises
  2. Active shooter incidents and/or other workplace violence incidents
  3. Natural disasters
  4. Cyber incidents
  5. Civil unrest where the organization is directly impacted
  6. Toxic material release

3. Communication roles

Key to successful crisis resolution is chain and unity of command. That’s the case even when it comes to communicating during a crisis.

As a result, the crisis communication plan must clarify reporting relationships to eliminate confusion and ensure that everyone is able to control the actions of personnel that is under their supervision.

In crisis management in business communication, the CEO will typically emerge as the company spokesperson. Some organizations, particularly public entities and agencies, make use of the Public Information Officer (PIO) role. Another likely role is PR (in-house or external).

4. Crisis communication responsibilities

Beyond clarifying roles, the crisis communication plan should also list out role-specific responsibilities. For example, a PIO is likely to be responsible for the following activities:

  1. Verify, coordinate, and disseminate accurate, accessible, and timely information on the incident’s cause, size, and current situation, for both internal and external use
  2. Gather information about the incident, e.g., from Incident Command Centre and response teams
  3. Gather information related to the type of incident from professional sources, such as response agencies, technical specialists, and emergency response guidebooks
  4. Verify the accuracy of the information gathered by consulting with the Crisis Chair, other Crisis team members, response agencies, and/or technical specialists
  5. Coordinate dissemination of information internally to response teams and related resources
  6. Coordinate dissemination of information externally to key stakeholders, media, and the public

5. Message & communication templates

Crises move quickly. And so, communication during a crisis must also go out swiftly and accurately.

To this end, organizations should include pre-fab messaging (broken out by incident) for the likeliest incidents they are to face. These messages will get reworked in the event of a crisis and circulated on the company’s social media channels, corporate website, external wire services, etc.  

6. Workflows and automation

Of course, crisis communication plans don’t just execute themselves even with the best people. Crisis communications technology will be needed to establish a process for gathering, analyzing, sharing, and managing crisis-related information and intelligence.

Workflows and automation, specifically, serve the purpose of streamlining communications to respond more quickly and efficiently to disruptive events, reduce manual effort and human intervention, and ensure consistency and reliability in critical tasks and processes. The specific capabilities that matter include:

Message templates

Prepare for any situation with pre-planned message templates, with dynamic content populated from a related event or other data, to reduce response time and ensure you deliver accurate and consistent messages when it matters the most.

Targeted communications

Target your communications to specific roles, teams, groups, locations, or any contact attribute, to ensure the right messages get to the right people at the right time and include links back to any object in the system in the message content.

Message response management

Receive and action email and SMS replies, and capture message responses by incorporating response links in email or SMS messages, as well as audible response prompts in voice messages, and use these responses to conduct welfare checks or team activations.

Message management

Relate messages to events, assets, or other objects, to form part of that record and include in timelines, use multiple system inboxes to receive email or SMS and organize messages by event, and apply message labels to easily categorize and find messages.

Fortunately, crisis communications software like Noggin Resilience can help. Crisis communications functionality help organizations proactively ensure all stakeholders are alerted to threats and incidents quickly, via the best methods to reach them.

But don’t just take our word for it. Check out Noggin for your crisis communications needs.

Go ahead - request a demo of Noggin today.