Be Prepared: Assess Your Communication Channels Before a Crisis Hits

by Kristin Deuber

Let’s be honest: It’s not if a crisis hits, but when.

Take United Airlines for example.

Never in a million years would they have expected to see video go viral of a passenger being dragged off one of their flights to make room for United employees.

It was obvious United did not properly prepare for a crisis of this magnitude that would receive so much backlash from PR experts, competitors and the public in general.

This situation alone shows that crisis communication planning isn’t an option—it’s a requirement for a successful business.

Preparing for the unexpected is a common component of a strong public relations plan, but what does that mean exactly? And how do you go beyond anticipating a potential crisis to truly feeling prepared?

You might already have an overall PR strategy for your company, but let’s dive deeper.

What specific channels need to be assessed before the alarm bell sounds?

  • Media materials: This should go without saying, but update your media kit regularly. Organization fact sheets, bios, company news—you know the drill. Keep these materials up-to-date and on-hand or easily accessible at all times. There’s no wiggle room here. Just do it.
     
  • Message-specific web page: Having a hidden or “dark” web page that is developed, approved and waiting in the wings to be activated when the whistle blows can save you from scrambling. This electronic resource can be made public or distributed using a specific web address when needed. A vulnerability assessment typically conducted during the crisis communication planning stage can help determine what issues might warrant this type of web page.
     
  • Contact lists: Do you have a list with the names and roles of the crisis team members, business leadership team and other key stakeholders? Is this list current with the information you would need to communicate with all of them when the crisis strikes? Does your list include mobile numbers for texting and placing actual phone calls? This list needs to be a living, breathing document. And it needs to be accessible. You need to be able to get to it from absolutely anywhere. A crisis won’t patiently wait until you get back to the office on Monday morning to attack.
     
  • Monitoring program: Make sure your press and social media monitoring tools are working, regularly reviewed and loaded with the appropriate key words. Again, a vulnerability assessment will help you determine the potential crisis and the corresponding key words to include.
     
  • Social media channels: Spending time growing your social networks and engaging with followers can pay off in good times and in bad. Use social media to keep the lines of communication open—from you to them and them to you. Connecting with followers during a crisis can be imperative for controlling the message and minimizing damage.
     
  • Emergency notification systems: When the ball drops, your plan needs to be put into action. Make sure the crisis team knows what to do, who’s doing it, how to do it and in what order. I’d even recommend doing a couple of trial runs before a crisis occurs. You’ll inevitably work out a few bugs in the system to ensure the real deal runs a little more smoothly.

Nobody wants to think about worst-case scenarios, and spending time and resources doing a dry run sounds less than appealing. However, it’s better to think it all through now so when something does happen, you aren’t left scrambling to do damage control.

Whether you have a crisis communication plan that you’d like reviewed or updated or you need to develop one for your organization, Approach Marketing is here to help. Our team has decades of experience and expertise in helping businesses of all sizes prepare so that they can respond promptly, accurately and with confidence during an emergency.

Contact us to learn more about crisis communication planning at kristin@approachmarketing.com.