Archive for April 21st, 2008

Crisis Planning seems to be big–but how do you know if they are any good?

April 21, 2008

I found it very interesting that just today I got two invitations to participate in webinars on crisis planning. One put on by PRSA, and the other by PR University from Bulldog Reporter. Both of these look like worthwhile presentations by expert presenters.

My question is this: how can anyone determine whether a crisis plan will be effective?

I think this question is coming out of the work I have been doing lately in creating a JIC Evaluation Tool and also reviewing the draft of the National Response Team JIC Model. If those putting plans in place and training participants don’t have an adequate understanding of rapidly changing demands of today’s audiences, how can those plans and models be effective. I suspect–more than suspect since I have seen a lot of evidence of it lately–that a lot of crisis plans are being put in place that would work in yesterday’s world but not in todays. Yes, things have changed that much.

Crisis plans developed today need to meet the expectations of today’s audiences–and, as much as possible, anticipate future demands. If not, they will be outdated before the big red notebooks get distributed.

Here are a few suggestions aimed at helping you evaluate whether your current plans (or brand new ones you are creating) are outdated:

— are they media centric? -in other words do they anticipate that the primary if not exclusive means of getting information out to key audiences is through the media?

— do they anticipate getting initial messages out in the first half hour? Impossible, you huff. Maybe, but essential. The determining factor for speed used to be “how soon will the news helicopters arrive?” Now it is “how soon will someone with a cellphone and cell camera convey it to the news media?” Instant news is now instant news.

–do they plan for using mass-individual distribution methods–such as text, text-to-voice conversion as well as email?  Today’s audiences have an increasingly well defined expectation for direct communication–just ask any student on any campus following Virginia Tech.

–do they plan for ongoing communication well beyond the initial news media coverage?  The news media comes and goes with increasing speed. But not so interested audiences. Plans that assume communication stops when the news media’s interest wanes are simply outdated.

–do they include the buildout of comprehensive information and audience contact information in advance? You need to know whom you absolutely need to communicate with in advance and have the preparation to do that virtually immediately. And questions need to be anticipated in advance with answers ready to go or pre-posted on dark site–because you simply won’t have the time or resources to do these things when it really hits the fan. Preparation today is much much more than identifying spokespersons and giving them media training.

–does your plan anticipate team operating on a vritual communications platform–I can guarantee you the crisis you fear most won’t happen when you are sitting at your computer waiting for all hell to break loose. You will be gone, or your key leadership team, or your whole office may have floated away. Being able to operate virtually is now not a luxury, but a necessity.

–is social media engagement more than a casual after-thought? Social media serves multiple roles in a crisis, some positive, some potentially negative. But it is an essential part of today’s information environment and any current crisis plan must have blog monitoring, blog participation, social media sites as communication media, blog policies and all these sorts of things worked out in advance. No longer can you hide your head in the sand and say: well, no one pays any attention to them anyway.

These are a few of the items that I can think of to help determine if crisis plans will actually work when you need them. Would love for crisisblogger readers to add to this list (or tell me why these don’t apply).