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Crisis communications plans help protect reputation, business when the unexpected happens

Expect the unexpected.

That’s the only way to prepare for a potential crisis.

Holly Boldrin, APR, CPRC, director of public relations at Priority Marketing, has drafted dozens of crisis communications plans for clients and is our go-to expert for proactive PR. Holly offers her advice in the June issue of Southwest Florida Business Today, a business-to-business publication that’s read by more than 35,000 professionals across the region.

Below is the full text of Holly’s article:

Every organization, from small businesses to large corporations to nonprofits, is vulnerable to a crisis. And while large-scale disasters like a hurricane or mass tragedy may come to mind, in reality, there are so many scenarios to consider – an employee convicted of a crime, an insensitive social media post or a data breach that exposed customers’ financial information.

A crisis has the potential to disrupt or damage an organization and tarnish its reputation, and even impact donations and revenue. The inability to handle a crisis has put many companies out of business. That’s why crisis management should be a priority for every organization, and that starts with the pre-crisis, or planning, phase.

When preparing your crisis game plan, it’s important to consider that there are three types of crises: First, an immediate crisis, is an event that happens suddenly, such as a mass tragedy; second, is an emerging crisis, or a situation that can be anticipated and minimized at early stages, such as a financial scandal or discrimination lawsuit; and third is a sustained crisis, or one that persists over time because they generally weren’t handled properly from the beginning. The BP oil spill, for example, is one that started as an immediate crisis, and then became a sustained crisis as it continued.

Navigating through a crisis can be filled with roadblocks, especially if you are unprepared. From our experience assisting clients, here are a few best practices for building a proactive crisis communications plan:

  • Engage the marketing and communications team, leadership, operations and human resources so that all of the key decision makers can provide input on operations, employee relations and communications.
  • Outline the scenarios and consider the crisis situations that are most likely in your industry or region.
  • Assess the organization’s vulnerabilities. For example, if you’re in the restaurant industry, foodborne illnesses or product recalls should be considered. In the banking or financial industry, technology and privacy breeches come to mind.
  • Mitigate risks by ensuring the company has proper security measures and training exercises in place.

DOWNLOAD: Free Crisis Communications Tip Sheet

Once operational concerns are addressed, move to the communications planning phase. This involves preparing draft letters or statements for the company’s target audiences, which may include customers, donors, board members and employees. Additionally, draft contingency statements for the media in advance, as well as talking points for social media communications, frequently asked questions and even an offline website may be necessary. Key leadership should be briefed on how to activate the communications plan if the situation escalates to the point of notifications. Key spokespeople should be identified and trained on how to respond to inquiries, including bridging techniques for media relations. Depending upon the scenario, additional support roles and even a command center or hotline should be factored into your communications planning.

Once you have a crisis communications plan in place, it should be reviewed and even rehearsed at least one time per year. This is an opportune time to make any necessary updates to the messaging or revisit training with the key team members.

At Priority Marketing, we have helped many of our clients develop crisis communications plans. While some have never put their game plan into action, others have been fully executed and their businesses have survived, and even thrived in the face of a crisis.

Is your organization crisis-ready?
What’s your crisis communications strategy?
Five steps to building a strong hurricane communications plan

Holly and the skilled public relations team at Priority Marketing can help develop a crisis communications plan for your organization or business. Call us today at 239-267-2638 or send an email to info@PriorityMarketing.com.

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