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Are You Ready, Getting Ready, or Getting Ready to Get Ready?

By Gerard Braud, CSP, Fellow IEC:

How ready are you to communicate quickly, like an expert, in a crisis?

Adjacent to your Business Continuity Plan should be your Crisis Communications Plan. Your crisis readiness should position your organization to communicate quickly with your employees, the media, your customers, your community, and other stakeholders.

When it comes to crisis communications, experience indicates that the vast majority of organizations are getting ready to get ready. Few are actually ready.

Getting ready to get ready can be defined as a group of business executives who are aware that a situation could escalate to the status of a crisis, which in turn could damage their reputation and revenue. They are smart enough to know the dangers, but lack the urgency to empower someone to take the next step.

What should you do?

Dip your toe in the water?

Eat the elephant one bite at a time?

Do one little thing that makes a difference?

Here are 5 steps to effective crisis communications.

  • Don’t be overwhelmed.
  • Do one.
  • Do it soon.
  • Congratulate yourself.
  • Set a goal to accomplish one more.

The 5 steps include:

  1. Your Communication Vulnerability Assessment: Make a list of all of the things that could affect your reputation and revenue, for which you will need to communicate with your stakeholders. Don’t just focus on injuries, deaths, and disasters. Consider IT breeches, sexual misbehavior, and social media situations that get out of control. A facilitator can guide you through the process of considering things that might not be so obvious. Many situations will trigger your crisis communications plan, without a need to implement your BCP. Unlike assessments that rank items for high probability, for the purpose of communications, consider everything that may affect the organization’s reputation and revenue.
  2. Your Crisis Communications Plan: Please don’t copy someone else’s simple list of standard operating procedures. The true test of an effective plan lies in your ability to hand it to someone and ask them to read it in real time and execute it.

If written correctly, they should be able to flawlessly gather information, confirm the information, and edit a prewritten news release, all in less than one hour. Just because someone types the words, “Crisis Plan” or “Crisis Communication Plan” at the top of a bad document doesn’t make it a real crisis communications plan. Besides, copying someone else’s plan may violate a copyright. If nothing else, it is the equivalent to copying someone else’s homework or cheating on a test. It is simply wrong.

  1. Your News Release Library: Statements are needed for every type of crisis. They are needed for the news media, as well as for employees, customers, and other stakeholders. If your audience is getting information and rumors from social media, then you have a problem. Having a library of 100 prewritten news releases speeds up your communications in a world that moves at the speed of Twitter.

Experience tells me most companies take 3-5 hours to write, edit, and approve statements. But with a prewritten news release, written with the proper multiple-choice and fill in the blank formatting, you can edit the document and publish it to your website within 10-15 minutes, rather than 3-5 hours. Effective, fast communications helps you control the narrative, which protects your reputation and revenue.

  1. Media Training for Spokespeople: What your spokesperson says can seriously damage your reputation and revenue. Talking to the media is not about being fast on your feet. Interviews are not about adlibbing key messages. It is a lie to think you can talk about only what you want to talk about.

Proper media training prepares a spokesperson to add perspective, context, and truth. Proper media training helps control the final edit of a news report, and thereby helps control public perception. Media training also allows a spokesperson to mess up in private so they do not mess up in person.

  1. Your Crisis Drill: Like media training, a crisis drill allows your team to mess up in private so they don’t mess up in person. You can simultaneously test your Incident Command Plan, your Business Continuity Plan, and your Crisis Communications Plan.

If your drill facilitator is effective enough to create realistic anxiety, the pressure shines a light on your star team members and casts a shadow on those who crack under pressure. A post-drill evaluation allows you to capture the best attributes of your stars so others can emulate their behavior. Likewise, those who performed poorly can be coached so they will do better in the future.

Do the 5 steps have to be done in this order? Not necessarily. The important thing is that you stop getting ready to get ready.

Instead, get ready!

About the Author: Gerard Braud, CSP, Fellow IEC is a crisis communications expert who was featured as a keynote speaker at our Continuity Insights Conference in Miami. Braud is a former journalist who has practiced crisis communications for more than 20 years, on 5 continents. You can learn more at www.braudcommunications.com.

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