Planning Basics

June 11, 2006

"You need a crisis communications plan." That's what crisis communications consultants like me are expected to say. And I do and I do believe it. But I am getting more sceptical lately about the kind of boilerplate one size fits all that seem to the stock in trade of this tiny profession. A detailed written crisis plan is undoubtedly helpful and most helpful when the scenarios it envisions is closely matched by the crisis that occurs. And that's the problem. Frequently a crisis occurs that the management team has never really envisioned.

That's why crisis plans in my mind have to be so basic. They need to answer a few key questions. I put those questions into the Four Ps; Policy, Plan, People and Platform.

What is your policy? This can be a multiple page document in excruciating detail. But the best one I ever heard came from the Coast Guard, arguably the best in the crisis communications business. His policy: the best the first and best source of information about the incident. The only thing I would add to that basic policy statement is identifying what kind of information is inappropriate to provide–such as names of individuals injured or deceased. Notification of families. Investor relations considerations. OK, I guess it can't be kept completely simple, yet the further away it gets from the basics the less helpful it will be in guiding the communication team during a crisis.

Plan–who is going to do what first. This largely comes to who are the people who are most important to your future and how and when will they be communicated with.

People–from the CEO, to the attorney guiding the legal response, to the communication team, to the organization structure and role of various managers involved. Understanding the team, evaluating the fitness for service in a crisis, evaluating spokesperson capabilities–these are critical. Then drilling them. Worst case scenarios, surprise scenarios.

Platform–here is where most planning fails the team. What platform will be used to communicate from. Most that are depending on–office LANs, Outlook, internal contact databases, PR Newswire for distribution, customer service centers–these are very inadequate and complicated for the communication team to manage. There are solutions designed specifically as team platforms for crisis communication–and the tops on the business are using these.

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