As an agency that works daily on crisis communications planning and responses, we’ve seen all types of crisis manuals over the years. Some plans were an exhausting 200 pages with numerous sections while others were only a page. However, one essential element remains missing in most – a linear, understandable process to activate a crisis communications plan. In fact, this process should include three main components – the notification, assessment and deployment phases.
First and most importantly, the plan needs an established and tested notification process in which employees and others know who to contact about an incident. Often, this type of communication is directed to the crisis team leader and key executives, which leads to additional notifications that alert team members to a developing situation.
Without a simple and understood notification process, companies can quickly fall behind in a response effort. As a result, media, opponents and others could shape the initial narrative with misleading and/or inaccurate information. Additionally, regulators, lawmakers and the public can quickly lose confidence in a company’s ability to take control of the incident.
The second part of the process includes an assessment phase where the crisis team leader and other decision makers evaluate the scope of an incident and determine appropriate response strategies and needed resources. This is one of the most important moments during any issue or crisis and when companies either set a path for success or failure. At this stage, discussions begin about available facts, impacted stakeholders, reactive versus proactive strategies and other critical aspects to better guide next steps.
Following the assessment phase, a company must establish initial assignments and protocols for deployment. During this phase, team members are activated to develop communications materials, respond to stakeholder inquiries, expand media monitoring and much more. It’s important to note, the list of assignments should be created well in advance of any incident to ensure the team knows when and what is expected once deployed. Additionally, the assignment planning will help expedite the dissemination of updates and other communications to affected stakeholders.
In sum, it is imperative that a crisis communications plan includes a clear, logical activation process for team members and resources. The development of an effective response process will help preserve public trust and demonstrate the ability to resolve an incident in an efficient and timely manner.