How to develop a crisis communication action plan

“I love it when plans go well,” as actor George Peppard used to say in a popular TV show from the 1980s. A statement that any company would make its own without blinking. However: making this wish come true is a different matter. Hence the importance of being clear about how to develop an effective crisis communication action plan.

Without a doubt, this is one of the mantras of any corporative communication class: “if you don’t speak, others will do it for you”. For better or for worse, and even more so if there is a problem involved. In addition, we must not lose sight of the fact that negative news has a greater impact among the company’s stakeholders (that is, among all those people who may have an interest in the company’s activity, including the target audience). In this sense, there is nothing left but to be realistic: no matter how hard we try to make a business run smoothly, there are factors that are sometimes beyond our control. From a breakdown at the production plant on the eve of a major order to an unhappy customer – whether they are right or not – to a contaminated food batch, a work-related accident or a business malpractice from the past that is uncovered.

Obviously, we don’t know when we will have to deal with a problem, but we do know that we must always be prepared to face it and look for solutions quickly if things go wrong. To do this, below, we summarize how to develop an effective crisis communication action plan, in four simple steps. Pay attention.

Evidentemente, no sabemos cuándo tendremos que lidiar con una dificultad, pero sí que siempre hay que estar preparados/as para dar la cara y buscar soluciones rápidamente si las cosas se tuercen. Para ello, te resumimos a continuación cómo elaborar un plan de comunicación de crisis eficaz, en cuatro sencillos pasos. Presta atención.

1. Establish prevention policies

Although it may seem obvious, the most effective way to deal with a crisis is to anticipate it, taking measures and precautions to prevent it from happening. Among them, it is necessary that the crisis plan contemplates the following actions.

Periodic audits of potential risks, detecting possible situations that could lead to a corporate reputation crisis.

List the possible crisis scenarios, illustrating them with real examples. It is advisable to detail the solutions that were adopted then and analyze their effectiveness if applied in your business.

Define internal guidelines for action. Although the management of a brand or corporate image crisis falls largely on the corporate communication department, all the company’s collaborators must be prepared for this scenario. It is therefore advisable to plan and organize small seminars or workshops in which collaborators are provided with standardized and common guidelines for action in the event of a critical situation for the company. The action plan should be clear to everyone.

Distribute roles. When an undesirable situation arises, it is important that all the staff of the company involved know what to do, how to do it and when to do it. It is also important to establish a hierarchy in the decision-making process, as well as an action protocol.

2. Act on the first alarm signs (and define how to do it)

The unfortunate reaction of the former president of the Spanish government José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, denying the imminent outbreak of a global economic crisis in 2008 and not adapting shock measures immediately, marked a before and after in his stage at the head of the Executive. Surely, no plan could have stopped the upcoming crisis, but it would not have affected the confidence of a large part of the citizens. This explains the importance of being wary and acting as soon as possible. To do so, you must not to wait until the situation worsens and seek solutions immediately. Below are some guidelines that should not be missing in a crisis communication action plan.

Identify and document the causes that are causing a stressful or dangerous situation.

Carry out internal communication processes with the professionals in charge of solving the problems in question. It is also necessary to define what can be communicated to the rest of the workers and what information it is preferable not to be disclosed yet, so as not to alarm the staff unnecessarily before having contrasted all the facts.

Detect and list the consequences of these problems for business activity in the short, medium and long term.

3. Facing the stakeholders

Typically, communication experts believe that a crisis has erupted when the problem becomes known by outsiders, causing public opinion to begin to form its own impression. In order to guide this point of view in the most favorable way, it is advisable to carry out the following actions.

Appear before the public opinion from the first moment. If something has not gone as expected, it is important that the company’s version is the first to be heard. Organizing a press conference – admitting questions from the media or not, although the latter could be interpreted as a desire for secrecy or opacity – can be seen as an exercise of transparency. However, it can also backfire. You may still remember the intervention of the then Minister of Health Ana Mato in 2014 when she announced the Ebola infection of nurse Teresa Romero. Although it was acted upon very quickly, something that is primary in the face of a sanitary issue, her concerned pose, her clothing – dressed in black – and her hesitation before some of the journalists’ not only did not reassure the citizens, but also increased their concern. To avoid this from happening, you have to respond quickly, but not without having a speech ready and having planned the message you want to convey and the staging in detail. Another good option is to send a press release to the media. In any case, whatever option is chosen, it should be explained in the crisis communication action plan.

– Announce immediate measures to minimize the causes that triggered the crisis and communicate its imminent execution.

– Thoroughly monitor the implementation of the announced measures, as well as their impact on public opinion. In this section, social listening tools – such as Social Mention, HootSuite or Sprout Social, without forgetting Google alerts – are an indispensable ally.

4. Plan communication actions for the following days

Un plan comunicación de crisis eficaz no se acaba dando a conocer la versión de la empresa ante el gran público. Cuando estalla un conflicto, además de apagar las primeras llamas, hay que realizar un seguimiento continuado para evitar que el incendio pueda reavivarse. Esta etapa puede prolongarse durante varios meses.

An effective crisis communication action plan does not end until the company’s version is fully known to the general public. When a conflict breaks out, in addition to extinguishing the first flames, continuous monitoring must be carried out to prevent the fire from being rekindled. This stage can last several months.

Within our guidelines on how to develop an effective crisis communication action plan, it is appropriate to set a strategy for the following issues.

– Take action to restore normalcy as soon as possible. Within this set of actions, outdoor advertising using LED screens or LED signs can be an excellent option. The same goes for social networks and other online channels, public relations, event organization or marketing. Thanks to these tools, it can be easier to overcome an adverse situation.

– Recover business reputation, through image campaigns or corporate social responsibility (CSR) actions, which reaffirm the company’s commitment to society. When planning them, it is necessary to adjust them to a realistic budget and make sure these initiatives are related to the economic activity of the company. For example, a firm that manufactures school supplies may donate a shipment of goods to developing countries.

Monitor the results of the actions carried out and incorporate them into the company’s manuals and internal documents, looking for possible alternatives to those that have not had the expected effect.

We hope that these guidelines on how to develop a crisis communication action plan have been useful to you. Do you have any questions? Do you want more information on how to integrate visual communication into a crisis plan or simply into a communication plan? If so, do not hesitate to contact Visual Led without obligation by telephone, calling (+34) 977 271 074; by e-mail, writing to, or through our form. We will be delighted to guide and advise you.

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