It happened. That very thing you talked about, but never thought would actually take place. Or that thing you never thought about that blindsided you at 11:15 p.m. on a Tuesday.

A crisis.

Whether it’s a building fire, employee injury, workplace violence, a legal matter, or viral twitter post: crises are inevitable.

The good is news is that you have a plan. Right? Organizations can always proactively prepare by having a plan in place.

If you don’t have one yet, here are a few pointers. Of course, we’re happy to help create, modify, test or finalize your crisis communications plan with you. Just give us a call.

While not all crisis plans are alike, there are key essentials to every effective crisis communications plan.

  1. Answers when you have no answers. It’s the wee hours of the morning. Something has happened. Seems bad, but you aren’t sure. You’ve only got three texts to go on and you’re headed to the office in your pajamas. Fox News is already calling. You have to be ready. You have to respond. Have a response template ready for those in-between moments.
  2. Phone numbers. For everyone. You’ll need to reach a lot of stakeholders like employees, media, elected officials, the fire department, your safety lead. Make sure you have after-hours phone numbers for all.
  3. Prepare your call-answerers! Imagine the leadership team is in the war room and preparing the perfect solutions to your issues. Meanwhile, people are googling your company and calling the mainline where your number one executive assistant is being bombarded with questions he has no answers to or training for.
  4. Fact sheet to collect facts/information: determine what has happened by immediately identifying as many facts as possible and conveying these immediately to the appropriate member(s) of the Crisis Response Team
  5. Breaks. Seriously. Plan breaks. Depending on the longevity of your crisis, make sure someone is in charge of ensuring the team is adequately rested so they can perform how you need them to perform.
  6. Templates. Media templates. Phone scripts. Employee emails. When you’re stressed out, it’s helpful to have guidelines.
  7. A plan of action to notify media/key stakeholders: There are various audiences outside your organization who will require timely and relevant updates throughout the incident. Identify who they are, list contact information, and outline a plan for distributing that information, such as email, phone call, social media.
  8. FAQ sheet: while you can’t prepare for every crisis, it is helpful to develop a FAQ sheet with drafted responses to likely questions from media, employees and the public.
  9. Sandwiches. Perhaps you’re not the type to miss a meal; but when you’re fielding calls from media, team members and family members, it’s easy to forget about dinner. Make sure you plan for your team’s nutrition, so no one faints during your time of need.
  10. Evaluate & Modify. Always plan to review the plan after a crisis – and make modifications. Make sure to review it often with your team and make updates as appropriate. It is important to have your team become familiar with the plan and be able to access it easily.  And of course, it is important to keep your PR agency up-to-date on any changes to your plan, so they are prepared to support your team.

To learn more about crisis management services and how STF can partner with your team, click here.

What happens when the phone rings and there’s a crisis? Your initial response is to call your usual crisis response “go to” person. What if they aren’t available? Take a deep breath, gather your thoughts and lead. Following these three steps can help you to manage a crisis as effectively and efficiently as the pros do.

  1. Prepare
    The first of the four steps in public relations is research. In a crisis, research is gathering the facts. Sorting the truth from fiction is a necessary step in the research phase and will help to determine and effectively measure the severity of the crisis. Fiction often accompanies truth in a crisis and it is critical that one is separated from the other.
  2. Plan
    Find a place that is private and prepare a plan. Usually the first plan involves the next ninety minutes or so. Alert the media as to when they can expect information from you and/or the client. Thoroughly prepare your client for the media; prepare key points and write a statement for the spokesperson. Also, prepare a set of questions the spokesperson should expect so they are prepared.
  3. Lead
    During the first few hours of the crisis, it is important that you lead. Be calm, composed and confident in carrying out your tasks. Emotions frequently run high in a crisis, so composure is essential. Organize the site for the media briefing and see that the plan is executed as smoothly as possible.

When working in the public relations industry, crises are inevitable.  Being prepared to handle such situations will allow you to gain your clients’ trust and further prove your abilities in their times of need.

Steve Turnbo, is the chairman emeritus and co-founder of Schnake Turnbo Frank. He has worked in the PR industry for over 40 years and has coached multiple clients through crises.