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Crisis Management Comes Before the Crisis

In terms of natural disasters and unforgivable tragedies, 2017 has been one of the most devastating on record. Fires, hurricanes, floods, shootings and protests of epic proportions have left our country reeling. Next to the tragic loss of lives and homes, the loss of jobs and businesses will only prolong the crippling effects as we move into the healing and rebuilding phase.

Beyond infrastructure, getting our businesses back on track after a disaster is of vital importance. Businesses are the economic engine for every community, and, when they are running and healthy, it makes the rest of the recovery process go much easier.

When it comes to how your business deals with a situation such as a natural disaster or other unforeseen tragedy, a crisis management program is a key component. Unfortunately, it is an area that far too many companies overlook in their day-to-day business dealings.

Crisis management is a component of public relations and communications and should be included in the conversation every time your PR program is being reviewed or discussed. If you think, “Oh yeah, we wrote one of those five years ago,” is sufficient, you’re wrong. My suggestion is it should be reviewed and updated every year in line with updating your marketing program and preparing your annual strategic plan.

The information below is one of the best, no-nonsense, plans I have recently come across. There are thousands of them out there. The hard part isn’t finding one. The hard part is implementing one.

Five Important Elements to Include in Your Crisis Plan

1- Activation Guidelines

Not all incidents and issues escalate to crisis level. And while your crisis preparedness program should scale across all types of issues and crises, your crisis plan or playbook is meant to only be activated when an issue escalates – or has the potential to escalate – to crisis level. So the first section within your playbook should define this criteria and provide your team with the tools and information they need to make this determination in the heat of the moment. Some elements you may want to incorporate into this section include:

  • Definition of a crisis – whether in the broader sense of the term or by narrowing in and defining certain specific crisis scenarios
  • The crisis management levels that all incidents should be categorized into
  • Internal escalation protocol(s)
  • Specific impacts that you want your team to consider when determining the level of an incident
2- Detailed Action Plans

Your action plans are basically a crisis management check list for your crisis team. They ensure that no important task gets forgotten or overlooked when things get hectic. When creating your action plans, you’ll want to identify the tasks and action items that each department would need to undertake and accomplish within the first 24-48 hours of a crisis occurring. Your action plans can be departmental (this is always my recommendation) and should:

  • Be prioritized – list them out in the order you want them to be checked off
  • Designate an allotted timeframe for completion – try to be as realistic and yet as timely as possible
  • Designate a clear “owner” for each task – someone needs to own each action plan (for example your department heads may own their respective departmental action plans), as well as each task. These are the people (within your governance) who are responsible for ensuring the item’s completion
  • Include a place for team members to keep notes and document progress for each action item, within each action plan.

Tip: If you list out your top 5-10 most likely crisis scenarios, this will go a long way in helping you identify the most important action items for each department or team member.

3- Pre-Approved Crisis Communication Strategy and Messaging

One of the secrets to successful crisis management is timely, consistent and effective communications with your key stakeholders. Yet timely approvals of communications can be a challenging and daunting task. So one of your goals should be to pre-define your crisis communications strategy, and to draft your communications and have them pre-approved by all the right members of your team – to the most extent possible at this point in time. The list of pre-approved communications should include:

  • Crisis communication strategy (i.e.: proactive vs. reactive, means of communication, hashtag strategy, etc.)
  • Talking points / message points
  • Holding statements / First response statements
  • Official (written) communications to each stakeholder group
  • Frequently asked questions (FAQ)
4- Thorough Contact Lists

You don’t want to be searching for important contact information when time is of the essence in a crisis. So be sure to include the following contact information within your playbook:

  • All contact information for each member of your crisis management team
  • All contact information for each crisis team member’s designated alternate
  • All contact information for each key stakeholder that you could potentially need to reach directly in the midst of a crisis
  • All contact information for any key venders and third party consultants/experts that may be required in the midst of a crisis

Contrarily, if you already have a CRM or other systems that contain all of this contact information for one or more stakeholder groups, be sure to:

  • Tag the appropriate data for easy reference, access and filtering in the heat of the moment
  • Reference the systems in the appropriate places within your crisis plan (i.e.: your action plans)
  • Have a hardcopy back-up somewhere (e.g.: the lists I detailed just above) in case your systems go down in a crisis

However, no matter what type of system you choose to use for your contact lists, don’t forget to keep them updated and kept current!

5- A Detailed Resource Repository

In this section of your crisis management plan, you want to include all additional resources and material that may be needed by any member of your crisis team in the heat of the moment. This can include anything from:

  • Timelines
  • Flowcharts
  • Specific stakeholder agreements or side letter details
  • Network access credentials
  • Anything else that may be useful for your team members and crisis management

Melissa Agnes is an international crisis management strategist and keynote speaker. President and lead crisis management consultant of Agnes + Day, Melissa has developed a worldwide reputation for crisis management, planning and training by helping global brands and governments prevent and manage a wide range of issues and crises.

If you have questions about developing a crisis management plan or could use our guidance about how to get started, please give us call.


— LaRoy Kingsley is the president of KK BOLD. After 35 years in the business, he knows a thing or two about just about everything a marketing agency can do.