Five ways to prepare for a crisis before it happens

Suppose you get a call at 11 o’clock at night from an employee alerting you to a social media disaster that’s taken off on your company’s Twitter account.

Screenshots of the tweet have now gone viral and the prestige reputation you’ve spent years building, has now gone up in flames, all in a matter of minutes.

What’s your saving grace? Certainly not the ambien on the nightstand.

When it comes to handling a crisis – whether on social media or not – the golden rule is to “tell it all, tell it fast and to always tell the truth”.

In times of crisis, the last thing you want to be doing in the moment of it happening is the actual planning around how you’re going to handle the crisis.

At a very early stage in a company’s lifetime, crisis preparedness should be a top priority for discussion. Having a plan in place to execute once a crisis has happened is business critical, especially when dealing with matters involving the public eye. With a growing number of communication channels available at our fingertips, this has never been more true.

Here’s five ways to prepare your organisation for a crisis:

1. Brainstorm all potential areas of crises relevant to your business.

Since every crisis will be different, it’s hard to guess what issue (if any) your business will be faced with. However, it’s incredibly important for your company to identify the risks of the business alongside the potential areas where a crisis may arise.

A key management meeting should be held to list out the various ways in which your company may come under fire, such as misstep by an employee on social media, or inappropriate conduct of a partner within the firm. The time spent brainstorming what situations pose a risk to the business will help to eliminate the cause for surprise if the situation happens to occur. It also allows you to acknowledge the various ways in which you’d plan to tackle these in the moment.

2. Identify your key stakeholders.

Understanding which audiences are integral to your business is also a key part of the crisis planning process. For each potential crisis area identified in your brainstorm session, it’s crucial to identify the stakeholders involved and how best to communicate with them.

Since each audience will have a different affiliation with the company, it’s important to have different messages to address their concerns. For instance, an investor will expect reassurance that the issue is being addressed quickly, while clients will expect an explanation and potentially an apology where relevant.

Be sure you address each audience with careful consideration and understanding. It’s critical to understand what you’d think they’d expect from the organisation if this situation was to come to life.

3. Create a plan of attack.

Once you’ve identified key areas of concern and the stakeholders involved, it’s time to put a plan in place. This is not an overnight job, so it’s important to understand that preparedness also requires some dedicated time spent determining the best and most effective way of handling each scenario.

We’d also advise enlisting a crisis communication professional who has handled similar situations before. A key outcome of this stage should be to develop a digital document that outlines the actions to be taken during each scenario, the communication involved, what channels you’ll be using to disseminate these messages, and who’s responsible for that communication to ensure that all appropriate measures are taken. This will save countless minutes of debating who does what and when in a time of urgency.

4. Delegate the right members of the team to be involved.

In advance of a crisis occurring, it’s also important to select the delivery team involved in implementing the plan in place. This is an opportunity to play to the strengths of different employees within the team. Typically, a dedicated spokesperson should be elected and this should fall to the CEO whenever possible.

However, it’s also important to have backups in place in case unforeseeable circumstances arise whereby the CEO or other senior members aren’t available. Once in place, be sure that each individual involved in the plan understands his or her role. Be sure to circulate the plan with those individuals who have been given an official role. This includes a handover plan in case that employee happens to be involved directly with the crisis and/or has left the company.

5. Hold a mock run through.

Finally, a trial run through of the plan is critical to ensuring that all bases are covered. Using one of the crises identified in the beginning stages, hold a crisis simulation event whereby each individual has to respond as if it’s the real deal.

By practising the plan ahead of time, the team will feel more prepared when a real crisis does occur and can iron out any potential room for error.

If you’d like advice on how to prepare for a crisis, please get in touch.

Read more about crisis communications

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