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Five Crisis Communication Plan Essentials

By David Calusdian, Executive Vice President & Partner

*Originally appeared on OpenView Labs, the strategic and operational consulting arm of OpenView Venture Partners, a global Venture Capital fund that invests in expansion stage technology companies.

“In preparing for battle, I have always
found that plans are useless, but
planning is indispensable.”

- Dwight David Eisenhower

President Eisenhower could well have uttered the same quote about Crisis Communications. Developing a crisis communications plan is more about planning to mobilize for a potential crisis, than it is about writing step-by-step actions for specific pre-ordained scenarios. And this is what causes so many management teams to be confused about exactly what the components of a good crisis communication plan actually are. Here are five “Crisis Plan Essentials” to consider in order to get your team ready to communicate in a crisis.

1) Identify the Crisis Team

It’s important that the right people from the appropriate functional areas of the organization are ready to respond at a moment’s notice to a crisis and understand their responsibilities as members of the team. Along with the CEO and CFO, the team should include key people from public relations, corporate communications, investor relations, human resources, public affairs, sales and marketing. Make sure that at least two members of the crisis team have been media trained. A major crisis is no time to get your feet wet in media relations.

2) Constantly Assess Your Primary Risks

Forward-thinking companies take a strategic approach to crisis communications by continuously assessing the risks associated with their businesses. The key to this effort is to establish a risk-aware culture and a process whereby employees can funnel their ideas about potential risks through management to an appointed member of the crisis communications team. For each risk, the team should assign responsibility for continuous monitoring and assessment, taking actions to mitigate risk when possible.

3) Develop Messaging Around the Key Risks

Once you have begun assessing your key risks, your team will be prepared to be prepared. Develop messages that could be used as talking points or as the basis of potential news releases related to each of your primary risks. Of course, when a crisis strikes, the devil is often in the details in terms of the actual communications. So be prepared to calibrate your messaging to address the nuances of the actual crisis. The messaging you develop in advance will give you a head start at a critical time, and will provide you with more flexibility than a pre-written news release that will not take the intricacies of the crisis into account.

4) Create an Internal Contact Roster

Nothing exacerbates a crisis like not being able to reach management or vital members of your team at a critical juncture. Develop a comprehensive list of every possible contact point for all members of the crisis team so they can be mobilized as quickly as possible. And keep it up to date! This may sound simple – perfunctory even – but many crisis teams have lost precious time because a cell phone changed or the number to a beach house had been left off the list. Include all business numbers (direct and main), home telephone numbers, cell phones and work and personal email addresses.

5) Know Your Stakeholders (and how to reach them)

Maintain the current contact phone numbers and email addresses of all of your company’s major stakeholders. This step is surprisingly skipped by many companies because they mistakenly believe the numbers can be easily located. But in a crisis there just isn’t time, for example, to make calls to a potentially hard-to-reach salesperson to find the right contact at your largest customer. Be sure to have all of the possible contact information for the following audiences:

  • Local, regional and trade media
  • Investors/Analysts
  • Customers/Partners
  • Suppliers/Distributors
  • Local government officials
  • Community leaders

Plan for every Murphy’s Law moment, and make sure that each team member has electronic and online access to the contact information for both the team and the key audiences. You never know when your home computer will have a meltdown and prevent you from accessing critical online information.

Implement the five “Crisis Plan Essentials” and you should be well prepared to mobilize in times of crisis. Remember to focus not just on creating The Plan for specific crises, but to take a more holistic look at how you will respond to the different scenarios that may come your way. Companies that are prepared to communicate in any situation will fare better in the long run than those that think they have mapped out each and every step they will take when confronted with a limited number of predetermined crisis scenarios.

David Calusdian, an executive vice president and partner at Sharon Merrill, oversees the implementation of investor relations programs, coaches senior executives in presentation skills and provides strategic counsel to clients on numerous communications issues such as corporate disclosure, proxy proposals, shareholder activism and earnings guidance. David’s clients are focused in the industrial, life sciences and technology sectors.

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