The Basics of Crisis Communication

It seems these days as if we’re collectively living in crisis after crisis. There are social, cultural, and economic issues rising to the surface that have been buried deep for a long time, and the pace at which information is shared can turn a simple disagreement into a PR disaster.

It’s time to revisit how you can prepare and lead through a crisis. There are many factors to consider when planning your message and setting the stage to weather a PR crisis successfully.


Crises are Inevitable

It’s not a matter of if a crisis will happen, it is a matter of when it will happen. When you’re in crisis mode, especially when things are moving fast and you need to communicate quickly, you won’t have the leisure of second-guessing yourself – you have to act.

Crisis events can impact every facet of your organization. It impacts your operations, it impacts your bottom line, your brand, reputation, and most importantly, it impacts the people you serve.

A cybersecurity attack, for example, can disrupt nearly every operation in your organization. If there’s an issue of sexual assault or violence, how does that impact your internal culture as well as your brand perception from the outside? Do your audiences think about you in a different light coming out of a crisis? Having a plan in place helps prepare your organization to come out of the crisis as unscathed as possible.


Have a Plan

There are no one-size-fits-all plans for every crisis that might come your way, but it’s better to have a guideline than nothing at all.

A good plan can be versioned for various kinds of crisis scenarios you may experience, and while you can’t know everything ahead of time, you can anticipate potential situations and their consequences with the business acumen you already have. Once your plan is developed, know where it is, with a digital and a printed copy (yes, still). Additionally, make sure that all the parties involved – your crisis team – knows where to find the plan and how to implement it. Refresh your plan annually at minimum.


Roles and Responsibilities

Roles change or employees may leave. Making sure roles, responsibilities, and contact information are up to date is critical to the execution of your plan. How much worse would your crisis be if a key player was out of the loop? Don’t leave people wondering who’s communicating to whom, especially when you’re under a stressful situation or one that could have moving parts. If people don’t know what their roles and responsibilities are ahead of time, you risk alienating, or worse, completely neglecting, a key audience.

When versioning out your plans for different scenarios, somebody’s role may slightly shift if you’re talking about a DE&I crisis versus a natural disaster.


Practice Makes Perfect

The foundation of having a plan is not enough. You need to practice and revisit the plan. Just because it’s written doesn’t mean you know how to follow it. Make sure your institution can practice it regularly, and revisit it often to ensure that everything is up to date and accounted for. Doing little things along the way makes you more prepared than you were yesterday.


Media Training is a Must

If you have a spokesperson identified for each type of crisis scenario, everyone should be involved in an annual media training. Let’s say your college had a fantastic year and maybe your president was on camera multiple times, but the conversations were about growth in the region, more students coming to your college, or a new program you’re launching. Those are generally positive stories, but if you have a negative crisis, there’s a different line of questioning and it does not feel the same when the microphones and cameras are on.

Media training is an easy exercise to prepare leadership or anyone on the front lines who may be dealing with some of the most direct questions.

Practicing some of those tough questions with an actual camera, and running through a mock interview, is a great exercise to make sure everyone knows the process.

The next blogs in our Crisis Communications series will expand on these topics to help you build upon the foundation of your plan and develop strategies for multiple types of communication.

About the Author

Rachel Spencer

Rachel’s expertise in strategic planning, qualitative research, brand messaging, public relations, and crisis communications has proven integral to AccessU for over 16 years. She began her career at a health and government-focused PR agency in Washington, DC, where she mastered the art of media relations. She later became the primary...

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