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What Is a Crisis Communication Plan?

A flourishing organization may delay preparing for a crisis, believing that an emergency could not possibly happen to them, but the absence of a crisis communication plan can be devastating to a business. For instance, lack of communication can lead to confused and angry stakeholders. The image of the business can become tarnished. Not having a plan can also dramatically slow the response time. Therefore, communicating immediately after an incident is key in crisis management.

Who to Communicate To?

After an incident, people both inside and outside of an organization will be looking for explanations. Leadership will need to anticipate the needs and questions of all groups affected by the crisis. The parties concerned can include:

  • Customers.
  • Survivors.
  • Employees.
  • News media.
  • The community (especially neighbors).
  • Company management.
  • Directors and investors.
  • Elected officials.
  • Suppliers.

How to Prepare for Communication After a Crisis

In order to reach all of the interested parties after a crisis, organizations should keep a database of all prospective people and organizations they may need to contact. The database should include multiple items of contact information — organization name, contact name, telephone number, fax number and email addresses. The company should consistently update the database and keep it in a safe place, possibly off-site.

Communication should begin with the customers. After all, they will be the first to know that something is wrong. To avoid an even greater crisis, redirect phone calls or record a message explaining that the business is experiencing a temporary problem. The customer service team is key; they speak for the company through their direct interactions with customers. Accordingly, they should receive ample guidance and be privy to the information they need. For instance, the team should know how to give customers the information they need such as the status of their orders. They should also know which customers to prioritize and when to contact managers, directors, investors or other stakeholders about an issue (especially on holidays or weekends).

A plan and instructions for contacting officials and regulators should also be in place in a crisis communication plan, as different regulations apply for different emergency situations. For instance, you must notify OSHA when three or more people are hospitalized or if someone passes away.

A senior manager should be nominated to deal with elected officials in times of crisis, and human resources should communicate with employees, victims, families and any outside agencies involved in taking care of employees (benefits, etc.). The organization should also appoint a representative to communicate with public safety officials on procedures to protect the community in case it is affected by the event.

Appropriate Messaging

Preparing holding statements, which can be applied to a variety of situations before sending out specific statements, can help with crisis management while more specific messages are being developed. For example, “We will be supplying additional information when it is available and posting it on our website.” Or “Our hearts and minds are with those who are in harm’s way.” Write simple scripts while considering the potential questions customers and other stakeholders may ask. For instance, customers may want to know when they will receive their order or how they may be compensated for the delay. Prior to the event, templates of these messages with blank spaces for event-specific information can be created. While preparing these, ensure each audience will be hearing the same basic message.

After the dust of a crisis has settled, the organization should hold a meeting to evaluate the efficacy of the crisis communication plan. An organization may have a formal procedure to direct the evaluation, or it may opt for a casual brainstorming session. As any organization that has faced a crisis will attest, these steps will prove to be valuable investments of time and money.

Learn about the Arkansas State University online BA in Communication Studies program.


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